Back in the winter of 2002 when I was living in San Francisco I went to see the amazing City of God which featured the trailer for the then soon-to-be-released Raising Victor Vargas.
It was one of the movies that first broke out after high quality digital video became available to the masses of independent-minded film makers.
Unlike that phony and pretentious cynical aethetic called Dogme 95 ( by anti-humanist scab-picker Lars “von” Trier ), the natural light, the unsteady cam served to underscore the genuine moments when a macho boy decides to start trying to be a grown man.
The movie explores Victor’s sweltering summer as he becomes interested in “Juicy” Judy Gonzalez: the block’s resident hottie. At the beginning Victor is all swagger and boast. When trumped bravado prove to be his undoing he undergoes a series of setbacks which invite him to discover the man inside versus the posturing veneer he thinks he needs to express.
Along the way Victor’s Dominican family environment, his relationship with his grandmother, and his siblings is shown with a tender and realistic dialog. The subtle points of life in the Lower East Side are meticulously pointed out.
Further, it’s not just Victor who gets to evolve: his love interest, his siblings, his grandmother, his would-be girl’s best friend, his own best friend….everyone seems to be breaking through from a childhood reality to an undsteady, realistic, adult conception of the world.
It’s amazing, the vocabulary is still that of children, but the actions are those of adults. Sometimes the words are those of adults but the heartbreaks are befitting to innocent children.
It’s a very positive movie that is neither sentimental, dreamy, or pie-in-the sky. At the end I wanted to know what happened next and whether the characters would be happy.
I recommend it, unlike Dancer in the Dark or Breaking the Waves which exist to build straw men of humanity and make you feel bad.