Julia Solomonoff recovers somewhat from her disastrous second feature, “Sisters,” with the more grounded if underdeveloped coming-of-age tale “The Last Summer of La Boyita.” Though the pic starts — again, unconvincingly — with two sisters in conflict, the core involves the younger sibling venturing off to a Pampas farm for a summer break from her family, and encountering sexual curiosities amid the bulls and fields. With universally familiar Argentine tropes and images on ample display, this is a project clearly designed for international export, and will sell accordingly, including a good chance in the hard-to-get Stateside market.
Derived from the writer-director’s childhood experiences, the film’s self-declared summery mood conceals a dark and disturbed period in the 1970s, during Argentina’s long military dictatorship. Indeed, the entire work is conceived as softly as possible to appeal to auds, especially those who associate rural Argentina with cattle-strewn landscapes and gauchos, while retaining a few of the realist touches of far more unsparing pics-in-the-sticks such as Albertina Carri’s “La rabia” and Alejo Taube’s “Una de dos.”
The oddest link, though, is with Lucia Puenzo’s modest hit, “XXY,” which also explored adolescent hermaphroditism. The suggestion of some kind of national obsession with the unusual sexual condition became the talk of Buenos Aires fest crowds after the world preem screening.
Weakest section is the opener, in which little but precocious Jorgelina (a bright Guadalupe Alonso) is bothered by the behavior of older sis Luciana (Maria Clara Merendino), as she refuses to take dips in the river near their family’s camping trailer (known as a “La Boyita”). Luciana is starting to have her periods, a prospect Jorgelina views with disgust. Her problems compounded by sibling sniping and their parents’ considerable strain, Jorgelina is sent to a ranch and some supposed peace and quiet.
There, on a big spread with plenty of space for cattle and horses, Jorgelina’s attention — and the film’s — focuses on ranch hand Mario (Nicolas Treise), a hard-working young urchin who lives in one of the barns. Jorgelina senses something special about the physically intense but emotionally withdrawn boy.
The two share books, horse rides and long, empty stretches of wandering and talking, but a few details come through that finally shift the story’s concerns. Luciana’s realization that Mario has both male and female organs doesn’t horrify her, but it doesn’t do much else, either.
The conceptual weakness of Solomonoff’s film is that it barely develops any of the emotional or dramatic ideas that seep to the surface, and insists on containing Jorgelina as a character merely reacting to things around her. Thus, it’s impossible to detect that the girl has really gained any fresh insights after her adventure. This may be why “Last Summer” doesn’t so much conclude as come to a halt.
Careful casting (credited to Maria Laura Berch) of the young leads is crucial to whatever real success the pic has, with Alonso and Treise urged to behave as naturally with each other as possible. Adult actors are merely along for the ride.
Lucio Bonelli’s expressive, sun-drenched cinematography is in line with the textured, realist look of much of auteurist Argentine cinema, and the lack of music is a plus.