Peter Sollett’s Raising Victor Vargas is a tenderhearted evocation of a young Latino boy’s conflicts with girls and his own stubborn family. The titular lothario (Victor Rasuk) lives with his sister, brother, and grandmother in a Lower East Side apartment and spends his summer hanging out on the streets and looking for girls at the city pool. If the look of the film recalls David Gordon Green’s masterpiece George Washington, it’s no coincidence: Sollett has enlisted the talented Tim Orr to create for him the same glorious Cinemascope palette that distinguished Green’s own first feature. The film has the sun-drenched look of a ‘70s relic; only the occasional pop-cultural reference (concert posters, a photo of Aaliyah, and a Mini Me mention) roots the film in the present. The timelessness of the film’s curiously non-gentrified Lower East Side milieu suggests that Victor’s struggle with the world is itself a timeless one. Victor fights with his sister (a remarkably bitchy Krystal Rodriquez), helps ease his brother into adolescence and in the process incurs his grandmother’s wrath. Sollett has deemed questions from interviewers regarding his own race (he comes from a white, upper middle-class film) as irrelevant. It’s not why he’s chosen to make a film about Latino youth that’s important, but the effortless humanism of his gaze. The film unravels like a blazing collection of snapshots chronicling the many fears and joys of growing up for a group of teenagers: the distrust “Juicy Judy” (Judy Marte) and her best friend have for boys; Victor’s younger brother Nino’s masturbation troubles; and the tenderness of a first kiss. Some critics will no doubt call this deceptively simple film a minor work when, in reality, the film’s scope is so uniquely and blazingly authentic. Anyone who fails to recognize Sollet’s remarkable ability to observe and chronicle otherwise insignificant events that, when strung together, threaten to explode is to do the film a major disservice. Despite a clunky series of scenes that trace the grandmother’s stubbornness and the family’s trip to family court, Raising Victor Vargas is a coming-of-age tale of universal appeal.
A top-notch or, more accurately, honest transfer: Every "stupid" sounds like "stoopid" and everyone's skin is the color mocha.
Starting things off is a lovely commentary track with Peter Sollett, co-writer Eva Vives, and stars Victor Rasuk, Judy Marte, Altagracia Guzman, and Melonie Diaz. Guzman is a trip but it's Sollett and Vives who dominate the recording, tracing the origins of Raising Victor Vargas to the 30-minute short Five Feet High and Rising, which is also included here. Marte and Rasuk originated their Raising Victor Vargas roles in the considerably more downbeat short, as did Donna Moldonado, whose "Fat Donna" character is a major focus. A short companion featurette focuses on the relationship between Marte and Rasuk and their families. This featurette is of special interest considering the sad and difficult moment where Rasuk's sister suggests that her brother should forget about trying to become an actor. It's obvious that class and race issues inform the girl's pessimistic outlook, and it's something that a struggling actor like Rasuk is trying to ignore. (But thanks to the success of Raising Victor Vargas, Rasuk has secured a number of high-profiles role in the past year, including the lead in Catherine Hardwicke's new film Lords of Dogtown.) Rounding out the disc is a photo gallery and previews of Bon Voyage, Breakin' All the Rules, and You Got Served.
"Was it funny when you pissed in my shoes or tried to cut my hair?"