Directed by: Peter Sollett
Starring: Victor Rasuk, Judy Marte, Melonie Diaz
The fact that I lived in the East Village in the early 90’s, a time before $25 Sea Bass on Avenue C, and $1M apartments sprinkled throughout Alphabet City, makes watching this perfect little indie even more enjoyable than it might have been had the neighborhood been less familiar. Shot on a miniscule budget, and using real neighborhood kids as actors, “Raising Victor Vargas” is less “movie” than it is “slice of real life captured on film.” Growing up in a city is very often a less than carefree experience for children, and watching Victor whittling away the summer in the steamy New York heat, with no spending money and only a tiny apartment filled with an unstable family is really an interesting juxtaposition to the unreality of sitcoms like “Friends” or “Seinfeld” where New York offers this kind of warm and generous world to kill time and enjoy life.
Focused largely on the teenage Victor and his brother and sister, orphaned kids being raised by their grandmother in a cramped welfare apartment, the story is largely about Victor’s pursuit the seemingly aloof Judy. Where the film could easily slide into sentimental crud, director Sollett keeps the film at bay, largely eavesdropping on the characters as they go about there lives day by day just hoping to get along. But this has everything to do with the compelling performances from everyone in the cast. Sure they are just playing themselves, but this is not nearly as easy as it looks to block out the camera and pretend to be yourself.
Although the family drama that underscores Victor’s story acts as a powerful backdrop for the examination of the life of children in this part of the world, this is a very different city than that of most NYC films: no mafia, gangs, rich uptown yuppies, or drug dealers – just regular people trying to get by in a very difficult. Ultimately “Victor Vargas” is a hidden gem, as is the neighborhood where it takes place, filled with the colors and smells of the people who live there, managing to find a way to make the seasons pass gracefully.