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Raising Victor Vargas Reviews

Nearly perfect. With a casual brilliance reminiscent of the young Truffaut, writer-director Peter Sollett expanded his award-winning short "Five Feet High and Rising" into one of the most welcome debut features in ages. The setting is New York City's Lower East Side, where teenage Victor Vargas (Victor Rasuk) is sweating out the hot, humid dog days of summer with his best friend, Harold (Kevin Rivera). According to Victor, a good-looking kid just needs to lick his lips in the exact right way and the girls will come running. Unfortunately for Victor, the one girl who's apparently immune to his charms is "Juicy" Judy Ramirez (Judy Marte), the prettiest girl at the Pitt Street Pool, who stole Victor's heart one blazingly hot afternoon. Sick of all the catcalls and come-ons, Judy pretends to have a boyfriend just to keep the wolves at bay, and she flatly ignores Victor's awkward attempts at courtship. Undeterred, Victor smooth talks Judy's younger brother, Carlos (Wilfree Vasquez), into arranging a proper introduction. Carlos agrees, on the condition that Victor does the same for him; Carlos has a crush on Victor's little sister, Vicki (Krystal Rodriguez). Victor's plan works — though he suspects Judy's only using him as more "bug spray" — but there's trouble brewing back home at the cramped tenement apartment where Victor lives with his grandmother (Altagracia Guzman). (Typical of Sollett's exquisite sense of understatement, a cracked picture frame is the film's only comment on the absence of Victor's parents.) Grandma, a tough cookie from the Dominican Republic, blames Victor for corrupting his angelic younger brother, Nino (Victor Rasuk's real-life brother, Silvestre), and is determined to do something about it. After catching Nino masturbating in their tiny bathroom, Grandma tosses Victor's belongings into a plastic garbage bag and hauls his butt down to family court. If the story thins out a bit in the middle, it hardly matters, because so much about the rest of the production works beautifully. With a carefully written script in one hand, Sollett wisely allowed his cast of non-professional actors to improvise their way into each scene, ensuring that a vital part of each actor became part of his or her character. Equally essential to the film's striking naturalism is the work of ace cinematographer Tim Orr, the young genius behind David Gordon Green's GEORGE WASHINGTON and ALL THE REAL GIRLS, who manages to capture the real New York City in all its gritty glory.