Barbara W. from MANCHESTER, NH Reviewed on 8/30/2009...
A slice of life film.
L. Quido | Tampa, FL United States | 03/12/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Although independent films such as this have virtually no DVD extras, sometimes the subtleties of the film itself can more easily be grasped on the small screen than in the theater. I saw "Raising Victor Vargas" in both venues, and preferred the intimacy of the DVD."Juicy Judy", played by Judy Marte in Peter Sollett's 2003 independent film, "Raising Victor Vargas" has no intention of being impressed by the insouciant Victor (Victor Rasuk) of title fame. She's grown through adolescence in the poor area of New York's lower east side. She's remained aloof to the enticements that come to her because of her beauty and look of wariness. She prefers to spend her time with best friend Melonie (Melonie Diaz), talking about life and love; exasperated by how much she is approached by men and boys. She's drawn a shell about herself, her composure untouched, her lack of trust in anyone outside Melonie and her family is palpable. We see her early on with only one gesture of instantaneous emotion, and that is when she impulsively hugs and kisses her chubby little brother at the community pool. If Director Sollett missed anything in this movie, it is a better glimpse of Judy's family life, what things contributed to her sense of pride and why she is so comfortable in her aloneness, not falling prey to the syndrome that is pride and risk-taking by beautiful young girls. We see Judy through the eyes of Victor Vargas. Victor appears to be much younger than he is - he's trying to live down a tryst with the "fat girl" Donna, in the neighborhood. Victor has been practicing his initial sexual moves with Donna, and, in the opening scene, they are clumsy and almost endearing. Less so is the speed with which he discards Donna. He needs to score with the beautiful Judy, who he sees at the neighborhood pool.
Undaunted by her declarations that "she has a man", he begins to pursue her, but in a manner that his own vulnerabilities show through. Judy begins to relax by having him around, senses that she can trust him, decides that he can at least be the brunt of others' advances to her, if he is her man. In a funny aside, friend Melonie shows absolutely no restraint with Victor's buddy, immediately beginning a teenage love affair. Unlike his approach to Judy, Sollett allows us to see the manner in which Victor was raised, and it is through this understanding that we are drawn to him. Arrogant in his street persona, Victor is too open to not show his own fears and insecurities. He lives with his Grandma (the delightful Altagracia Guzman) and has to share a room in their crowded flat with younger sister Vicki (Krystal Roderiguez) and youngest brother Nino (Rasuk's brother Silvestre Rasuk)- all three are adolescents. It is obvious from the get go that the friction in the family is between Victor and the irascible Vicki and Victor and his grandma.Raised on a peaceful farm in the Dominican Republic, Grandma tries hard to get used to city life. She has a straightforward way of dealing with indiscretions by the children. She is upset when Victor and Vicki fight over the phone, and installs a lock on the phone so that no one can use it. She's at her wits end as the children get older - any small indiscretion by Victor is cause for alarm, and she puts the fear of God in him by taking him to DCF and trying to give up her right to raise him. Although she has the grace to back down from her position, she's frightened all three kids by the lengths she is willing to go for her belief that they need to be a "nice family". She's instilled Catholic rituals in them, and all three accompany her to church. There is little doubt that she's had little education, and speaks English that is heavily accented. Grandma's Achilles heel is Nino, but then, Nino is so awkward, so loving and real, that it is hard for anyone to resist him. Nino is struggling with puberty, and a humorous incident of Grandma finding him masturbating in the bathroom is made all the more so by Grandma's insistence that it must be Victor who taught him to sin. Victor's two worlds come together by his own design. Without a thought of what Judy will think of his family, or his family will think of Judy, he invites her to dinner. The awkwardness and awareness of the emotional ties between son and family and son and lover are illustrated beautifully by Sollett in a painful scenario that surprisingly, ends well.Even if you've not recently lived with teenagers, you can sense the passage from the confused and insecure portrayal of early adolescence (Nino and Vicki) to the street-smart, tough talking but even more vulnerable 16 and older teens (Victor and Judy). You can feel the impact of poverty on the kids, but you can also see real life, not weighted down by crime and violence. You can sense how strong bonds are formed by the merest willingness of one kid to try to understand another kid, and to talk about what they are felling. You get a sense of the strength of respect between generations in Hispanic families and the retreat that the family provides from the outside world.Sollett, previously having won awards for a short film, "Five Feet High and Rising", gives a marvelous novella (almost a pseudo-documentary) on the story of first love, on the powerful pull of family relationships, in a simple tale about real people. I hope he never loses his ability to tell a story as the budgets he is awarded get bigger and bigger.
The camera play is a little awkward, but the sequencing, editing, choices of backdrop and small bits of music are all gems in a realistic film that was one of my Top Ten in 2003. Those who crave action and intricate plotting, or laugh out loud comedy will not find it in "Raising Victor Vargas", a rare little coming of age film with a superb cast of unknowns.A definite must-see; you'll love the honesty of this film."
L. Quido | 05/27/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Why are people so shocked that they liked this movie? What we have here is a simple coming-of-age story that treats its characters with such honesty that it has the force of revelation. Set in the predominantly Dominican and Puerto Rican Lower East Side of New York City, acted by non-professional kids from that neighborhood, Victor Vargas often has a documentary feel.But don't be fooled. This gem is the result of untold hours of polishing. The story moves at its own pace and seemingly randomly, yet every second of the film is building toward a climax as unforced and poignant as first love. The way Victor Vargas treats culture makes it the opposite of Bend It Like Beckham, another independent film that is doing well across the country. In Beckham, culture is the basis for facile jokes, strained conflict and stereotypes. In Victor Vargas, it is an invisible force that informs the characters but doesn't overwhelm their humanity. To anyone who enjoyed Beckham, I challenge you not to enjoy Victor Vargas ten times more."
The Personal Lives of Urban Hispanic Youth
mirasreviews | McLean, VA USA | 08/31/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Victor Vargas (Victor Rasuk) is a teenager from Manhattan's Lower East Side. He lives with his grandmother (Altagracia Guzman), his little brother Nino (Silvestre Rasuk) and his sister Vicki (Krystal Rodriguez). He's a nice guy. He likes to impress his friends and dole out dating advice to his younger brother. He likes a young woman from the neighborhood named Judy (Judy Marte). Judy is aloof, jaded by all the men who hit on her constantly and not interested in having a boyfriend. But Victor is persistent and does his best to be a gentleman towards her. Judy finally consents to being Victor's woman, mostly so she can tell her other suitors that she is spoken for. As she spends more time with Victor, Judy comes to like his earnest charm and considers the possibility of having a real relationship. Meanwhile, Victor's grandmother, a woman in her 70's who grew up on a farm in the Dominican Republic, is at her wits end. Her grandchildren are essentially good kids, but Nino, her favorite, is growing up, and Victor has become an independent young man. Grandma simply doesn't know how to handle the situation. Victor has to make peace with his grandmother and help her understand that they all need each other in spite of their differences.
"Raising Victor Vargas" reminds me of the "cinema verite" style of filmmaking that became fashionable in the 1960's. The film shows us a realistic slice of life and at times has a strong documentary flavor. The film's young cast is wonderful. Victor Vargas is a charismatic and sympathetic young man who makes the audience hope that he is understood by his grandmother and succeeds with his girlfriend. Writer and director Peter Sollett makes everyday events in the lives of these young Hispanic Americans interesting and poignant. Their flirtations, fears, petty squabbles, and family difficulties take on a significance not normally associated with such mundanities, perhaps because we see them so up close that their impact is amplified. "Raising Victor Vargas" does an impressive job of focusing our attention on life's details and providing a glimpse of an urban youth culture with which many of us are not familiar. Recommended."
Realistic Portrait of Young Love and Family Life
Chris Luallen | Nashville, Tennessee | 09/10/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Victor is a Dominican teen coming of age in a poor neighborhood on New York's Lower East Side. Partly out of attraction and partly out of a desire to improve his reputation, Victor pursues Judy - the neighborhood hottie. Judy at first ignores Victor's overbearing advances. But she later allows him to be her "man" as a means of warding off the other guys on the street who are constantly harassing her.
Meanwhile Victor has a difficult home life to deal with. His very traditional grandmother is always upset with him because she sees him as providing a "bad example" to his younger siblings, Vicki and Nino. Victor and sister Vicki are also constantly arguing, while younger brother Nino is a good "church boy" who longs to meet girls like his older brother. Grandmother is a well intentioned and charming character who sometimes goes a bit too far in her efforts to control the teen-agers. Nino is perhaps the most sensitive and intelligent member of the family. He is gradmother's favorite but is also experiencing the awakening of his adolescent sexuality. His discovered masturbation and grandmother's extreme reaction to it provide one of the best and funniest scenes in the movie. Meanwhile Vicki has her own romantic problems as she endures the awkward advances of Judy's brother Carlos, a nervous but sweet "gordito".
Meanwhile Judy has started to develop feelings for Victor as he reveals his true self rather than the phony playboy he was trying to be. The movie culminates in an excellent scene where both the grandmother and the teen-agers realize that they must learn to respect and trust each other if family happiness is ever to be achieved.
With all the big money being spent on mindless Hollywood blockbusters. It is a pleasure to find a low-budget indie film like this where quality filmmaking tells a sincere and realistic story of young love in a place where most of us never venture. The acting is terrific, the portrayal of Dominican culture in New York seems authentic and the movie has more heart and brains than most big-budget action flicks can even dream of. Highly recommended!"
Five Feet High and a little disappointing
Mr. Eddie | New York, NY | 09/28/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I saw the film this is a sequel to, "Three Feet High and Rising" about two years ago, and I think it it is most sincere, moving portrayal of a teenage romance I've ever seen. For anyone who wondered if having a camera, fabulous actors, and a moving story was enough... that film proved it. I lived in New York for many years, had some similar romances (although not really in the same environment) and the film really captured something.
Now we have this feature-length version of the same type of material. This film is also exceedingly well made, full of emotion, and captivating. Victor's relationships are all adequately developed, it explores more manifestations of love, and over a longer period of time, but has missed out on the intimacy of the original short film. This is still a moving piece of work, but I didn't walk away feeling blown away. Maybe that's the curse of shooting such an incredible film beforehand.
The other thing I would say is that I would have enjoyed some of the scenes more if the younger brother had been developed into a substantial character, and the grandmother hadn't been quite as monomaniacal. It seemed a bit too four-walled (is that the right terminology?) at times and lackluster. This is a powerful, intimate style of filmaking and I think that given the strength of these performances the director may have left the camera on a little too long at times, and sacrificed some pacing.