November 14, 2007

Violet Perfume: Feminist breakthrough from Mexico


Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ****

At this year's Film Society of Lincoln Center Latinbeat Festival, a special sidebar was devoted to screenings of, as the FSLC put it, "Four Breakthroughs from Mexico's New Cinema": Amores Perros, Japón, Duck Season, and Violet Perfume: No One Is Listening. The first two, and to some extent the third, are well-known to most movie buffs, but the latter, outside of festivals, has hardly made a ripple in the USA. Now that Violet Perfume is here on DVD, audiences have the chance to see and understand why the film is indeed a breakthrough of sorts. It's also a mega-downer, which may account for its not finding theatrical release.

Resolutely feminist without overplaying its hand, the film--written by Jose Buil and directed by Maryse Sistach--introduces us to a memorable adolescent named Yessica (a pitch-perfect performance by Ximena Ayala) whose life, while not much, will soon grow much worse. Though poor, Yessica possesses such energy and liveliness that we root for her, expecting some sort of change as she meets and bonds with another young girl who is somewhat more middle-class. But bad habits, long been set in place, take their toll in a country where class and paternalism control everything from family to church, school to employment. Add rape to this mix, and you set in motion a downward spiral that the strongest among us might have trouble reversing.

Violet Perfume is a film in which no one comes off clean. Some are better--kinder and more honest--than others, but the hypocrisy necessary for survival is a constant presence. I don't often employ the world "tragic" in my reviews, but I believe this movie warrants its use. If the ending--quite believable, by the way--could be lifted from any number of horror films or thrillers, well, this is a horror film of the reality sort. Although the movie was made in 2000, I can't help but wonder if much in Mexico has changed regarding girls who are young and poor.

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Posted by cphillips at November 14, 2007 11:38 AM