Friday, September 30, 2005
7 Virgins at the Toronto International Film Festival
Having recently navigated the star-infested streets and settled into the screening rooms at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, one of my favourite discoveries was 7 Vírgenes (7 Virgins) by Spanish director Alberto Rodríguez, which proved to be an unexpected and refreshing approach to what often seems an over-exploited genre. In its attempt to honestly depict the experience of disadvantaged youth in Sevilla, 7 Vírgenes offers something more than a generic glimpse into a typical array of ‘shocking’ and/or ‘deviant’ adolescent behaviour – substance abuse, violence and sexual exploitation being among the usual offenders.
Shot from the point of view of Tano (Juan José Ballesta), a sixteen-year-old boy who has just been released from juvenile detention on a weekend pass in order to attend his brother’s wedding, the film exposes the ambiguity and conflict inherent in the life of an individual who cannot reconcile the demands of his conscience and desires with his daily reality. As the story unfolds, a similar ambiguity is uncovered in each of the characters that surround Tano, including his brother Santacana (Vicente Romero), who in spite of his ‘responsible’ and ‘respectable’ nature (or perhaps because of it) appears to be marrying without love. In many ways this discovery is even more disturbing than some of the more brutal moments in the film, a testament to Rodríguez’s unique interpretation.
7 Vírgenes treads a fine line between gritty reality and symbolic representation. While a number of symbolic references are central to the plot, they are carefully revealed so as not to threaten the integrity of a ‘real’ story, and for the most part the film avoids excessive sentimentality. At the same time, the characters are full-blooded and the events wholly realistic without becoming mundane. Rodríguez leaves a number of avenues unexplored, and as a result ‘7 Vírgenes’ does not always seem to fulfill its potential, which can be frustrating for the viewer, but perhaps promising in terms of future projects. While I don’t expect a local screening any time soon (it would be nice), if you have a taste for films along the lines of Barrio (1998), Rodrigo D: No Futuro (1990) and Los Olvidados (1950), you should definitely be on the hunt for this one…