Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Baby bird films-Raising Victor Vargas

One of the more fascinating things about films is how we interact with them. Sometimes we wrestle with them, take my ever changing feelings on No Country for Old Men as an example, sometimes we are secret defenders like with the Wachowski's Speed Racer (oh it WILL have its day) and sometimes there are films that we feel compelled to care for. Something in our mind is triggered and we want to nurture for them, praise them and show them off to the world. They're baby bird films. I recently had such an appearance with the critically touted then quickly forgotten Raising Victor Vargas. The movie won some tiny awards and was nominated for a handful more but it essentially gt drowned out by bigger and flashier films with critical clout (Two Towers, Chicago) or by more immediately exciting foreign films (Irreversible, City of God).

I think the trailer rightly touts it by it's high critical reputation, but RVV is not the sort of film that conveys itself well in two minutes. It's a film about a certain time and place but carries some very universal truths to it. A lovingly shot character piece director/writer Peter Stollet comes off as a more informal David Gordon Green (not surprising given that the two men share DP Tim Orr who worked this film in Super 16mm). The film employs a variety of non-actors (though several of them have gone professional since) to flesh out the Lower East side world Victor and his family inhabit. Not a lot of story but the characters are so honest and so authentic you just enjoy spending time with them. You root for them. Victor grows up a little bit over the course of the film but it doesn't happen in a contrived three-act structure sort of way, everything is organic.
The story itself is deceptively slim. Victor (Victor Rasuk) sees himself as a smooth operator and lothario but when a rather young and selfish encounter with the unfortunately nicknamed Fat Donna gets publicized he needs to rebuild his "rep." Victor in order to undo the damage sets his sights on Judy (Judy Marte), the beautiful girl who is completely fed up with being hit on and oogled at because of her looks. At first she's annoyed by Victor but she decides that he's harmless so she allows him to hang around her as a repellant to more obnoxious guys. Judy, her little brother and her friend Melonie (played by future Sickness favorite Melonie Diaz who would go on to blow me away in Be Kind Rewind) somehow all manage to get entwined in Victor's home-life.
The stuff at home alternates between funny, embarrassing and melancholy. Victor lives at home with his grandmother (though he refers to her as Mama), a younger sister he constantly quarrels with and a younger brother who's a good kid but his idolization of Victor is starting to get him in trouble. Grandma's English is not great and she's a very traditional woman but her conviction is so strong one can empathize with her frustrations of dealing with a generation of kids and a world she can barely begin to understand.
To say more would be to rob the movie of it's myriad charms. I described it to my friend Ian as a sort of sweet Cassavetes picture. Very authentic and rough but polished in it's execution. I would urge all my readers to promptly add it to their netflix q's post-haste. Hey readers any tiny films you want to help see their audience grow? Put them in the comments with a few words saying why.

PS-Stollet's next film will be Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (which will probably have a killer soundtrack). The film's titular stars are George Michael himself Michael Cera and the voluptuous fictional spawn of Katherine Keener in 40YOV Kat Dennings (see I wasn't kidding about titular). What's it about, tell us oh imdb:
It's been three weeks, 2 days, and 23 hours since Tris broke up with Nick. And now here she is at his gig, with a new guy. How could she have moved on so fast??? Nick, in a desperate attempt to show her he's moved on too, turns to the girl next to him and asks her to be his 5 minute girlfriend. This begins the night of Nick, Norah and Manhattan. The night of stripping nuns, hotel ice rooms, russian food, psychotically Jewish ex boyfriends and lovingly trashy ex girlfriends. It's the night of Julio and Salvatore. The night of holding hands and writing songs and singing in the rain. It's a night they'll never forget.
Oh, Peter porn.

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