Winner of the National Critics’ Prize at the Guadalajara fest, “Violet Perfume” is director Marysa Sistach’s strongest work to date. Focusing on the ever-increasing problem of rape in Mexico City, this urban drama has a poignant emotional core in the truthful description of its characters’ despairing lives. Pic will be much in demand on the international fest circuit. Young audiences at home could help garner respectable earnings at B.O., in spite of downbeat tone.
Although rape is the film’s central theme, Sistach and screenwriter Jose Buil (her husband and co-director of her previous feature, “The Comet”) avoid TV movie sermonizing by presenting the subject in a wider context.
Based on a true incident, pic centers on two lower-class teenagers: Yessica (Ximena Ayala), a gangly tomboy who creates trouble in school and at home due to her rebellious nature, makes friends with the more childlike Miriam (Nancy Gutierrez), who lives with her single mom (Arcelia Ramirez), a salesperson at a neighborhood shoe store.
The girls develop a deep bond that includes a non-sexual infatuation. However, Yessica, who is the only daughter of a woman (Maria Rojo) who has remarried to another single parent, is always at odds with her stepbrother Jorge (Luis Fernando Pena).
Jorge, who works with his father (Eligio Melendez) for a bus line, allows a driver to trap Yessica and rape her in exchange for money. The teenager is too ashamed by the abuse to report it, and that fearful silence snowballs into tragedy.
Shooting with a direct, dynamic style, Sistach places viewer in the heart of the action while avoiding sensationalism. The rape, for example, is shown in the context of big-city violence. The remainder of the story unfolds with a naturalism that prevents the final plot twists from appearing melodramatic or contrived.
Young cast is essential to the film’s realism. Ayala (who shared the actress award in Guadalajara) and Gutierrez movingly convey unprotected innocence threatened by a hostile environment. Supporting thesps are equally credible.
Kudos go to Servando Gaja’s precise hand-held lensing; blown up from Super 16mm, it contributes a docu-like grittiness to the action. Soundtrack obeys the current fashion of wall-to-wall pop and rock songs, but this is a minor concession in an otherwise rigorous drama.