'Teenage'

* * ½

With the voices of Jena Malone, Ben Whishaw, 1 hour, 17 minutes (NR)

Matt Wolf's documentary, co-written with author Jon Savage, is a far less complex inquiry than the book on which it's based, and it can feel repetitive and oversimplified. Aesthetically, this film from the San Jose-born Wolf has an aching, dreamlike pull, constructing a panoramic view of history through the prism of collective and personal memory.

The collage-style essay interlaces archival footage and stills, from the rare to the invented (the latter in the form of scenes and tableaux that convey the personality and milieu of people for whom there's no existing footage). Voice-over narration, some of it read by Jena Malone and Ben Whishaw, quotes from anonymous teens' diary entries and frequently makes obvious rhetorical points.

The narrators also give voice to four real people, whose emblematic stories are woven into the cine-tapestry: British flapper, Hitler Youth member, German proto-punk swing fanatic and black Boy Scout. This new footage is meant to look like something out of the vaults, complete with degraded 16-mm film stock. It's pretty, but its inclusion raises questions that distract from the movie's subject. However accomplished in terms of design and mood, the real/faux hybrid aspect of "Teenage" doesn't deepen its thesis.

But as Wolf traces youth culture from 1904 through the atomic blasts ending World War II -- from factory drudges to sacrificed soldiers -- he gives form to a ghost in the machine of the modern nation.

Teen spirit, the film affectingly suggests, is shaped by a keen awareness of mortality.

-- Sheri Linden, Los Angeles Times

'DAncing In JaffA'

H * *

1 hour, 26 minutes (NR)

Grass-roots Middle East diplomacy takes the unlikely form of rumba lessons in "Dancing in Jaffa," a documentary that doesn't force-feed its message of hope but genuinely earns it.

Director Hilla Medalia follows Palestine-born, U.S.-based dance instructor Pierre Dulaine as he inaugurates an ambitious program for Israeli fifth-graders, Muslim and Jewish alike. Her eye-opening, richly observed film takes chances and has a lot of heart, just like the man at its center.

A longtime teacher in New York City schools, Dulaine is at least as charismatic as Antonio Banderas, who played him in the 2006 feature "Take the Lead."

Returning to his hometown of Jaffa for the first time since 1948, when he was a toddler and his family was forced out by the formation of Israel, Dulaine launches a 10-week program in five schools, only one of which integrates Jews and Muslims. Dulaine insists upon ballroom tradition, and that entails convincing Arab mothers to let boys and girls dance together. Once the kids have overcome their shyness and qualms, he moves on to the larger goal: bringing together students from opposite sides of the political and cultural divide.

Medalia captures nothing less than barriers dissolving.

-- Sheri Linden, Los Angeles Times