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La Boyita (aka The Last Summer of La Boyita)

Film Movement // Unrated // November 6, 2018
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted January 14, 2019 | E-mail the Author
Jorgelina (Guadalupe Alonso) has not yet entered puberty, but her curiosity about the changes that are going to happen to her have already taken hold. She steals medical books from her parents and peeks at the diagrams and pictures of women's bodies until she can't stand to keep looking, and she is alternatively fascinated by and infuriated with her older sister, Luciana (Maria Clara Merendino), who has already started getting her period and goes to the beach to try and spend time with boys. All Jorgelina wants is to spend another fun summer playing in the trailer on their property known as La Boyita, but when it's clear that isn't going to happen, she decides to spend the summer at her father's house out in farm country. There, she meets a young man named Mario (Nicolas Treise), working as a farmhand on his father's farm. Jorgelina is attracted to Mario, lying in her wading pool and whispering his name to the sky, but Mario stays at arm's length, guarding a personal secret.

Julia Solomonoff's La Boyita (full on-screen title: The Last Summer of La Boyita) is a tender and touching coming-of-age film that locates its warmth and compassion through the non-judgmental perspectives of children. There is an inclination for films like this, which are rooted in nostalgia, to be melancholy, but while there is a bittersweet quality lingering around the edges of the film, Solomonoff keeps her focus on the treasured memories rather than the tragic ones.

Above all, the casting of Jorgelina is crucial to Solomonoff's goals, and she hit the jackpot with Guadalupe Alonso. The character is crossing the bridge between youthful innocence and teenage rebellion, and Alonso is perfect for both, with the passive-yet-curious eyes that are the essence of childhood, and the need to assert herself that defines teenage rebellion. Solomonoff shows Jorgelina peering through a window, watching with a hint of jealousy and awe as her sister and her friend try on push-up bras for the beach, and later, the way she studies Mario as he works around the farm or prepares for an upcoming horse race. Jorgelina may not yet be old enough to interrogate the mechanics of what she sees and her own emotional reactions to what she observes, but Solomonoff presents her behavior with wry humor and zero judgment, even when those outcomes still have a hint of childhood brattiness (such as when Jorgelina refuses to let her sister have the bathroom to herself, or when she tells her mother she's going to hide out all day in La Boyita instead of going swimming). The film lives and dies on the authenticity of Alonso's performance, and she has authenticity in spades: through her, Solomonoff captures the feeling of being young with such clarity that the film would be worth a watch even without the rest of the plot.

However, there is more plot, and it must be discussed in detail (mild spoilers to follow). Jorgelina is aware that her sister's period has started (referring to it as "her 'thing'"). She dislikes the idea of it, but knows what to look for, which makes it surprising when she notices that Mario is bleeding after one of their horse rides. It quickly becomes clear that Mario, who is much shorter and skinnier than his brother, is not a cisgender male, and that the other boys in town have been bullying him because they seem to know his secret. This turn in La Boyita may be slightly more divisive now than it was when the film was originally released in 2009, because it turns out that Mario was assigned male at birth, and only later it was discovered that what doctors thought were male genitalia were actually female genitalia. If Solomonoff's script has a shortcoming, it's that the viewer is rarely let into Mario's head. It's unclear how much of Mario's gender identity comes from within as opposed to what has been placed on him by a family that views him as male, and a modern movie might make more effort to clarify where his dysphoria comes from beyond the implication that it was an excess of male hormones. That said, it's clear that Solomonoff's sympathy lies with Mario, and the spirit of his conflict, which is confusion, remains valid even if cultural optics have evolved in 10 years.

Unlike a number of modern queer stories, Solmonoff is aware of but minimally interested in the bigotry of others. She includes scenes of Marco being bullied and beaten, but they are brief and never linger. Instead, the core of the film is watching Jorgelina and Mario bond with one another, with Jorgelina never questioning anything that Mario tells her about himself. Through Jorgelina's non-judgmental attitude, Mario starts to come out of his shell, embracing himself and the connection between them, a journey which culminates in a simple and beautiful moment of connection at the climax of the movie. Solomonoff's film isn't groundbreaking, but it has a light and tender touch that so many other coming-of-age stories, especially ones that get into queer territory, are sadly lacking.

This new Film Movement DVD of La Boyita is being released to replace and out of print Tartan Palisades release from back when the film was still new. I am not entirely sure why they have decided to shorten the title from The Last Summer of La Boyita to La Boyita, but the full title does not appear anywhere on the packaging. The one-disc release is one of the lower-tier Film Movement releases, with what appears to be a laser-printed cover, although the disc itself is pressed. Inside the cheap Amaray case, there is an insert advertising other Film Movement titles.

The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, La Boyita looks adequate on DVD. Colors appear to be accurate, with minimal crush, detail is average, with some shots looking nicely refined and others looking a bit soft. I did not detect any banding or artifacting throughout the presentation, although points must be docked for the disc's use of burned-in subtitles. Sound is a similarly adequate Dolby Digital 2.0 track that sounds fine but is not particularly immersive or impressive. This is a dialogue-driven film with a low-key score, so the additional channels aren't necessarily missed.

The Extras
None. Trailers for La Familia and Tanta Agua play before the main menu.

La Boyita is a warm, compassionate movie of quiet triumphs. Although there is a hint of melancholy around the edges of the film, Solomonoff chooses to put her weight on the film's sensitive qualities. Film Movement's DVD has some shortcomings, including hard-coded subtitles and no extras, but the film itself earns a recommendation.

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