I got this movie because I had read on a website run by a submissive man that this movie comes closest to reality, in his experience, and I'm glad that I did. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. The emotion and interaction between the two characters is intriguing, in no small part due to the actors' fine performances.
Jan is a juvenile delinquent who becomes obsessed with his 50 year old probation officer, Elsa, and they get into a sadomasochist relationship, but there is a lot more going on than simply that. Jan knows exactly what he wants even if he might not understand why. And it's not just about pain for him. He is also thrilled by acts of submission and obedience, enthusiastically showering her feet with kisses and clearly taking sensual pleasure in doing whatever she asks when she issues her commands with the right tone.
Jan is just a boy and yet he has a man's confidence about what he needs (or thinks he needs). And he is not afraid of it, any of it. He unapologetically and without hesitation chooses her over friends several times. In their intimate scenes together, he shifts so easily between his regular self and aroused anticipation, going from rolling a cigarette, to wide-eyed and panting, and back again without a hint of embarassment. He buys a collar and leash for himself, wanting to belong to her, and he kisses her with such reverence that perhaps it is not merely an obsession after all.
I found it interesting that the movie hints that no one else seems to recognize this tendency in him, even the judge who has known him for 3 years and Elsa's husband. Jan offers himself only to Elsa, as if he'd been waiting for someone like her to come along and claim him.
Elsa is at first reluctant to deal with him and initially believes that him following her is just him acting up for attention. But interestingly she begins to understand what he wants without him having to actually tell her. By the time of their first "session" he had made suggestive advances but he had not mentioned wanting to be hit. She figured that part out on her own, so he was clearly right about her "wanting to do things to him" or at least having a predilection towards being a dominate woman. The submissive nature of his clues might have gone unrecognized by another woman or been thought of as a joke. She could have assumed that he was playing a cruel game with her but something in Elsa understood him.
I think that the reason why the writers of the movie choose to make the male character a 16 year old boy was that a boy was able to bring beauty and innocence to the relationship. This helped to ensure that the audience wasn't as bogged down by preconceived notions about submissive men or worried about Elsa's safety with a strange man. We get to see the tenderness and understanding behind these types of activities without being distracted by sex and fetish.
The ending of the movie was not quite disappointing but jarring, however we are too used to American movies that tell you everything that happens until they live happily ever after and also generally tell you what to think of everything too. A film like this is not trying to tell you the answers but ask you questions. At the end you are left in a place where you should be asking yourself what you wanted to happen between them. Is this obsession or love? Is it fair to dismiss his desire as confusion due to an unfortunate childhood combined with the sexual exuberance of youth? In the end, he makes a dramatic gesture that reminds her that he is a child but do you really think he will grow out of this? Is Jan's very final act yet another form of submission?
These questions are especially interesting if you know nothing about this lifestyle/desire or if you have feelings against it. You might be surprised by how you feel about Jan and/or Elsa and that's the point of the movie, IMHO.
On a side note, the German title of the movie, Verfolgt, means "hounded" or "pursued" not "punish me." Does the title refer to Jan pursuing Elsa or about Jan's desires hounding him? You decide.
All in all a great movie and I recommend it, if you can open yourself to its questions.