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:: Raising Victor Vargas

Raising Victor Vargas is easily one of the best coming of age stories about the awkward pains of first love and growing up to hit screens of recent years. It lacks the phoniness and slickness of so many similar tales from Hollywood, and audiences will connect with the believable characters and their situation.

Seventeen year old Victor Vargas (played beautifully by newcomer Victor Rasuk) is a cocky, self-styled stud of the Latino quarter of Brooklyn, who shares a squalid apartment with his younger brother Nino (Silvestre Rasuk) and sister Vicky (Krystal Rodriguez), and their no-nonsense, deeply religious grandmother (Altagracia Guzman). But his reputation plummets when he is caught in the bedroom of “Fat Donna”, who lives in the upstairs apartment. Keen to restore his reputation, Victor tries to work his charms on the beautiful Judy (Judy Ramirez), whom he spies at the local swimming pool. But first Victor has to negotiate some deals with Judy's brother, who is keen on Vicky, as well as maintain an uneasy peace at home with his grandmother, who believes he is an unhealthy influence on his siblings.

Full of winning humour and a rare honesty, and a sense of compassion and empathy for these characters, Raising Victor Vargas is one of the more impressive, intelligent, sensitive and rewarding coming-of-age tales to hit the screens for quite some time. First time writer/director Peter Sollett grew up in Brooklyn and knows the streets and the characters intimately, and this gives the film an unerring sense of authenticity.

Sollett has cast his film with largely unknown, inexperienced actors drawn from the streets of New York, and they bring a convincing realism and enthusiasm to their performances. Rasuk in particular shines as the charismatic Victor, while Guzman effortlessly steals scenes with her rich and warm portrayal. Many of the actors share their first names with the characters they play, which provides an immediate connection; the two boys who play Victor and younger brother Nino are real life siblings.

Much of the dialogue has been improvised, which makes the film seem even more realistic and unforced. Sollett also effectively uses hand held cameras to capture the vibrant background of this close-knit family and give his film a sense of immediacy.