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Raising Victor Vargas (15)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Short film Five Feet High And Rising; Trailer.

TEENS seem to be coming of age every other month at the movies, so it takes something special indeed to get critics raving.

But Raising Victor Vargas played to receptive audiences at the Cannes, Toronto and Sundance film festivals, as well as winning the Grand Special Prize at the Deauville Film Festival and the Made in Spanish Award at the San Sebastian Film Festival last year.

The reason is simple. Raising Victor Vargas is a smarter than average tale of teen angst, made all the more remarkable by its firm grounding in reality, its excellent sense of humour and by the fact that it is comprised of a cast of untrained actors.

The latter point, in particular, works to its advantage, helping writer/director, Peter Sollett, to expertly capture the awkwardness of adolescence in several of the improvised moments, that only serve to make the characters more human and identifiable.

The Victor Vargas of the title is not unlike the countless cocky teens we have witnessed in any number of movies, strutting his stuff early on as he attempts to seduce his latest conquest.

The only trouble is, the woman in question is an overweight and unpopular girl, and once word gets out that he may have slept with her, Victor’s credibility is placed on the line.

Acting quickly to repair the damage, Victor sets his sights on ‘Juicy’ Judy Ramirez, widely considered to be the most beautiful girl on New York’s Lower East Side, and is amazed when she accepts him as ‘her new man’, despite initial rebuffs.

But as Victor’s arrogance threatens to run into overdrive, his life begins to get more complicated, as the pressures of living at home with his wayward family (most notably, his outrageous grandmother) begin to take their toll, and the real reasons for Judy’s acceptance of him become clear.

As Victor, the aptly-named Victor Rasuk expertly juggles the testosterone-fuelled cockiness of his sexually aggressive teenager with a sensitivity that initially looks beyond him, while his playboy shenanigans frequently get him into trouble with his grandmother, who repeatedly blames him for the corruptive influence he has on his younger brother and sister.

His relationship with Judy (Judy Marte) is brilliantly observed, so that you’re virtually holding your breath in anticipation of each embarrassing moment whenever they are together - although a little more time could have been devoted to exploring her character’s reluctance to find love.

As good as Rasuk and the rest of the cast is, however, it is Altagracia Guzman, as the fiercely outspoken grandmother, who steals the show, commanding every scene she is in, whether it’s dragging Victor off to be taken into the care of social services for his wayward attitude to family, or undermining his attempts to impress Judy at an impromptu dinner party.

Sollett may have opted for raw authenticity over tried and tested stars, but his ‘gamble’ pays huge dividends, helping the audience to really become captivated by the lives of the film’s protagonists.

In fact, such is the realism of many of the scenes, that one is reminded of this year’s City of God, which also used untrained stars to mesmerising effect, as well as some striking locations, as NY’s Lower East Side has seldom looked so lived in.

Raising Victor Vargas is a delight from start to finish and one which more than justifies the strong word of mouth which has been bestowed upon it.

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