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Åke Lindman (1928-2009) was one of the most beloved Finnish actors of the golden era of 1950s and 60s, continuing his career until the first decade of the new millennium. He had also quite a few directing credits, one of the first ones being Jengi from 1963. Time has rendered the rakish youth portrayal rather campy, but it certainly is not without its charm even decades after its original release.
The movie tells the story of Paavo and Eeva (Esko Salminen and Tarja Nurmi), two rural teenagers bored with their uneventful country lives. Looking for new experiences, they decide to move to Helsinki against the wishes of their parents and find work as a construction worker and bar waitress respectively. However, the sinful attractions of the big city soon put them in danger: a wild gang led by a tough leather jacket wearing punk named Kale (Ville-Veikko Salminen) lures Paavo and Eeva reluctantly participating in (or at least witnessing) various naughty activities, such as drinking, promiscuous sex and street fighting. Of course, this kind of lifestyle is no good in the long run something the young couple comes to learn the hard way.
From a modern point of view the cautionary message seems dated, if not outright comedic: the clean-cut youngsters twisting to the music of none other than Eino Grön look anything but dangerous these days. Still, I enjoyed all of the music in the film, ranging from vintage rock'n'roll to the jazzier pieces accompanying the gang's noisy strolling through the nocturnal city. The romantic score during the softer scenes works fine as well. Visually, the dark streets are very beautifully lit during the night scenes, making the exteriors very pleasant to watch. As a Helsinki native, I also generally enjoy seeing how the familiar streets looked in the 1960s, long before my time.
Even though at first it looks like there is not a single positive thing to be found in the city of sins, later on the mood is softened by a few understanding supporting characters. Particularly the always good Siiri Angerkoski brings a breeze of kindness to the mix in the role of Tilda, a motherly worker at Paavo's construction site and his eventual landlady. On the other hand, the slang-speaking gang members are amusing to follow too, especially Ville-Veikko Salminen as the bullying Kale and Liana Kaarina as the oh-so-depraved Pipsa.
The gang's immoral antics are paid so much attention that the movie inevitably carries a slight exploitation vibe, even though modern audiences are unlikely to find any of it very shocking, perhaps apart from an attempted rape at one point. Considering the earlier raunchy tone, the epilogue in the house of Paavo's parents comes across as even more old-fashioned than it probably was originally meant to be. So, under the youthful surface there lies a conservative message, but other than that, Jengi is an entertaining flick and provides a very interesting window to the youth culture of the early 60s well worth a watch for fans of classic Finnish films.
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