Brothers Abroad brand

Saturday, September 27, 2003

“Raising Victor Vargas” - The Gate, Notting Hill

A few words on the venue, before I get going…Does The Gate think that its shabbiness qualifies as boho-chic, or what?! The foyer is more like a cramped kiosk area and the availability of Japanese rice crackers as well as Ben & Jerry’s mini-tubs does little to redeem its credentials. I recommend a) the engagement of a more diligent, between-screenings cleaner - judging by the piles of popcorn on the sticky carpet, I’m not sure there was such an employee at all; and b) an ‘‘Electric’‘-style make-over, in keeping with the gentrification of the postcode. Perhaps this overwhelming, run-down vibe was all part of an interactive ruse to prepare us for the reality of the projects on the Lower East Side, where the story unfolds.

 

 

Time Out’s review was pretty encouraging, but there was no getting away from the fact that this choice was essentially a compromise in the face of deadlock, as my movie-mate and I couldn’t agree on anything else - ‘‘Pirates of the Caribbean’‘, ‘‘Belleville Rendez-vous’‘, ‘‘Cypher’‘, Good Bye Lenin’‘. Worse still, I could recognise in myself a subconscious reluctance to see a film with a title beginning with ‘‘Raising…’‘, no doubt engendered by that silly ‘‘Raising Arizona’’ poster featuring the baby…(??). It is also not usually a very good sign when a movie is only shown at a few screens - in this instance, the distributors had only made a feeble attempt to cover ‘‘urban’’ (Brixton’s Ritzy; Odeon Holloway) and ‘‘arthouse’’ (Everyman Hampstead; Electric), although I had no idea how long the movie had been on general release.

 

The phrase ‘‘a little gem of a movie’’ (or variations on that theme) is much abused and is often a euphemism for ‘‘should probably have gone straight to video, but we thought it was kinda cute - in parts’‘. If ‘‘Pulp Fiction’’ or ‘‘Eyes Wide Shut’’ were banquets, then at the published 88 mins running time, ‘‘Raising Victor Vargas’’ is a juicy, organic burger of a movie, with baker fries and homemade relish(es)... which, let’s face it, is sometimes, just what the doctor ordered. I have often heard that Manhattan’s Lower East Side is trendily ‘on the up’ and has much to offer in the way of exotic eateries - like Brick Lane four years ago, but with a bit more culinary choice, from Bangladesh to Bogota. But I have yet to experience any of these for myself and there is certainly no evidence of them in this picture. Indeed, my movie-mate was at some stage, quite reasonably under the impression that it might have been set ‘‘somewhere in (underprivileged) Latin America’‘. All the characters are of similar background and ethnicity - no rich folks, no cops, no Anglos, no Afros - and yet there is never any sense of cardboard, cut-out characters, as there can be in even Spike Lee’s multi-racial works. As with Spike however, the dialogue occasionally merits subtitles; so listen carefully.

 

The film revolves around Victor, a late teenager, living in uncomfortably cosy conditions with his half-sister, younger brother and grandmother (‘Ma, their sole, legal guardian). Victor is not blessed with the looks of a matinee idol - or even those of his grandfather (check out his ‘pose’!) - but his charisma and screen-charm give him an irresistible appeal, as well as the ability to portray a breadth of emotions and an apparent age range from sixteen to twenty-six. ‘Ma is his unlikely co-star in the mould of the most sympathetic if flawed character from a docusoap.

 

This does not feel like just another kids’ coming-of-age movie, as some reviews might suggest. It simply shows us a slice of life that happens to lay bare the process of growing up. If you loved ‘‘City of God’‘, but thought it was a bit heavy on the drugs and violence, you should love this. ‘‘Vargas’’ doesn’t quite have the swagger or the visual lyricism of ‘‘City of God’‘, but it is beautifully poetic in its own way; touching, colourful and very easy on the eye, without ever having to resort to aesthetic scenery or props…other than Juicy Judi, that is - the object of Victor’s desire. ‘‘Vargas’‘ has the same amateur-acting-workshop authenticy of ‘‘City…’’ and other youth-orientated, Latin American movies going way back to ‘‘Pixote’‘. But unlike those others, it does not leave you drained and feeling like you’ve been through the emotional mangle. Rather, you are left with the glow and the smile of one who has enjoyed a wonderful day in the sunshine.

 
 

Ayodeji C. R. Mahoney  MMIII

Posted by Dej on 27 Sep around 3pm

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