May 2, 2003

Pure, Original Acting

Raising Victor Vargas: a complex psychological study of adolecence

By Leticia Villaseñor

It’s hard to imagine that this poignant rendition of adolescent life is director Peter Sollet’s feature debut.

Set in Manhattan’s close-knit Lower East Side, the film centers around sixteen-year old Victor Vargas (Victor Rasuk), a cocky, but sometimes compassionate teen struggling to grasp the true meaning of love. Victor’s home environment is not ideal; he lives with younger half sister Vicky (Krystal Rodriguez), brother Nino (Silvestre Rasuk), and old-fashioned, eccentric grandma played masterfully by Alta-gracia Guzman. Being the alpha male in the machismo atmosphere of the Dominican Lower East Side forces Victor to slide into the character role of a modern day Don Juan, attempting to secure his status within the neighborhood.

After abandoning “Fat Donna” (Donna Maldonado) for fear of damaging his reputation, Victor comes across a girl entirely different from the others. “Juicy Judy” (Judy Marte), as she is called by all the guys, rejects Victor’s advances countless times—something he is definitely not used to. As the film progresses, July slowly begins to let her guard down and expose her vulnerabilities.

“Raising Victor Vargas” becomes a complex psychological study of the adolescent process of learning to love, trust, and empathize with others. Victor slowly begins to shed his pseudo-macho exterior and let Judy see his weaknesses and fears.

The Kiss. Victor Rasuk, as Victor Vargas and Judy Marte as “Jucy Judy”:

Judy, on the other hand, is like so many girls—she has been degraded and demoralized her whole life by men, which in turn, has bread a deep hatred and distrust. Her unlikely pairing with Victor helps her see that not all men are the same. Together, the two face many obstacles in terms of broken home environments and rigid rules imposed by Victor’s out-of-touch with reality Grandma.

This film is a real pleasure to watch because it does not seem like acting at all. In fact, it is as close to a documentary as possible. The actors in “Raising Victor Vargas” actually come from the Lower East Side, and most had never acted prior to this film.

Director Peter Sollett spent two years prior to the film hanging out with the kids and chronicling their every day lives, taking in their experiences, obstacles, and personal growth. The script was then developed for the film, directly reflecting these experiences.

What makes Peter Sollett’s feature debut even more remarkable is that the actors never once saw the script. The dialogue was improvised, with the script acting as a loose guide to the story line. The actors reacted to the events in the film as they would react to the same situation in real life.

“Raising Victor Vargas” is a risky experiment that definitely paid off. Go see it and you’ll witness some of the most pure, original acting that is available right now.

Reprinted from

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