Movie Reviews
3:45 pm
Sat June 21, 2003

Raising Victor Vargas

All a filmmaker needs to do is done in "Raising Victor Vargas."


There is more humanity in Peter Sollett's "Raising Victor Vargas" than most Hollywood films this year. This small slice of Lower East Side Latino life concentrates on people by shooting primarily close-ups, right down to the oily pores of teenage skin.

Victor is a 17-year-old hottie living with his aged grandmother, his fat couch-potato sister, Vicki, and his adoring, pubescent younger brother, Nino. As a Latino stereotype might have it, each teen is looking for love while stumbling through its awkwardness. Grandma is old school, devastated, for instance, by young Nino's masturbating in the bathroom and ascribing it to Victor's evil influence. She tries to exile Victor only to find out the law won't allow it. More importantly the theme is that families cannot easily jettison each other. Old school, new school, children and adults must adjust to mutual dependencies that contend with eager youthful independence.

New actor Victor Rasuk plays Victor with remarkable authenticity, a well-meaning go-getter inheriting an eye for the ladies from his father. Underneath the swagger is a caring heart longing to draw a potential girlfriend into this family and its hamburger dinner. She represents the wary world that trusts few, especially men.

Her girlfriend, Melonie, literally and figuratively lets her hair down with Victor's less-cool friend, Harold, to show a wholesome but cautious sexuality. Grandma, off the boat from Santo Domingo, is a saint of love and some impatience. Her difficulty dealing with the hormonal resources in her household is tempered with a deep love of each child. The scenes are neither arty nor profound, just showing family life in the Latino section of New York, where love in its many forms is the coin of the realm. It all reminds of Ricardo Huch's words:

"One thing is certain, that as much fine humanity is wrecked by family restrictions as by the very passion that seeks to break through these barriers."

If you care to have close-up, in-depth characterization, see this film before you forget that it doesn't take piles of money to create a genial small movie. All a filmmaker needs to do is done in "Raising Victor Vargas."