Anybody who is familiar with the LGB cinema could be forgiven for feeling a certain sense of familiarity when reading the synopsis of The Last Summer Of La Boyita. Indeed, if you ever flick through the pages of any LGB film festival programme, you can be guaranteed that half the films will be coming of age stories, dealing with the confusion of newly found feelings of love.
In it, Jorgelina (Guadalupe Alonso), a young, tomboy-ish Argentinian girl, sees her close relationship with her sister Luciana (Maria Claria Merendino) changes as the latter is entering puberty, and is more interested in boys and make-up than sharing secrets in their usual place of refuge, a caravan nicknamed La Boyita. Following her father to the country, Jorgelina develops a close friendship with the farmer's son Mario (Nicolas Treise).
The Last Summer Of La Boyita is a pleasant surprise however, and for several reasons. While lovingly shot, with some greatly evocative scenes in the Argentine countryside, the film has a naturalist film to it that almost reminded me of the Dardenne brothers, especially in the way childhood is portrayed in such a truthful way. No wisecrack, annoying kids smarter than their age, no overdone awkwardness either, just a fine balance that feels right and realistic.
And then the film never falls into the trap of sentimentalism. This is also another pitfall of LGB cinema that has often made me conclude that straight directors often manage to make some better "gay" films (if there is such a thing), as they seem able keep a certain distance towards their subject and make the effort of being more inclusive. (This is not just true of the LGB community, any film that is made by and for a certain community tends to suffer from the same shortcoming).
I am never been one to reveal too much of a film, even just to give a hint of a plot twist if I can avoid it. So while I will try not spoil this, do not read any further if you do not want to know anything about it. All I am going to say is that the film takes an unexpected turn, with a rather dramatic development that is tactfully handled, as the secret of one of the characters is revealed, which makes the film become quite a bit darker than anticipated.
And the great strength of The Last Summer Of La Boyita is its subtlety. The confusion of pre-teens is evoked with much accuracy, a time when you can just about grasp some more grown up issues but not quite what is happening to you and how you should react to it, and what direction your life is about to take. Something definitely happens to both youngsters but it is clear that they have not quite grasped what quite yet, and what they are going through it is not signposted through some heavy handed scenes as far too often the case in this sort of films.
The director does not offer an easy resolution, and the audience is left to imagine how both leads's life will pan out after this fateful summer.
A further proof if we ever needed one that the Argentinian cinema is certainly one to watch at the moment, full of vitality and diversity. Even if you feel that the story might sound a little too familiar, I wholly recommend The Last Summer Of La Boyita. it is a touching a subtle film that owes a great deal to the understated and poignant performances that director Julia Solomonoff has managed to elicit from her young leads.
The Last Summer Of La Boyita (2009) Argentina. Directed by Julia Solomonoff. Starring Guadalupe Alunso, Nicolas Treise... Available on DVD and VOD in the UK from this week.