Perfume de violetas

The prize-winning Perfume de violetas provides further proof of the vibrancy and relevance of much contemporary Mexican cinema. This is the second feature from director Maryse Sistach, whose work is noted for its frank treatment of social and sexual issues. In Perfume de violetas, which is based on real events, Sistach focuses on the growing problem of rape in Mexico City. Crucially, though, her film contains none of the simplistic sermonising of many issue-driven dramas. Instead, Sistach has turned in a powerful and perceptive study of a rebellious teenager whose life is destroyed by sexual assault and other social ills.
Yessica (the remarkable Ximena Ayala) is a gangly tomboy who is constantly in trouble at school and at home. Thrown out of one school for slapping a teacher, she is enrolled in another and builds up a friendship with the much more reserved Miriam (Nancy Gutierrez). Living in a hovel with her mother and a stepbrother whom she hates, Yessica is enthralled by the comparative luxury of Miriam’s abode, which she visits as often as possible. Her already precarious existence is thrown into turmoil when her loathsome stepbrother arranges for her to be raped for cash by one of his work colleagues. Too terrified and ashamed to tell her mother or the authorities, Yessica falls back on her friendship with Miriam, only to land her friend in trouble through acts of petty theft and deception. It’s a heartbreaking tale, in which the indifference and brutality of the adults is compounded by the young people’s inability to communicate. The film’s main strength, apart from the wonderfully natural performances, is its avoidance of the sentimental and the melodramatic. Reflecting her boisterous young heroine’s energy and tenacity of spirit, Sistach films the drama with a dynamic hand-held camera and loads the soundtrack with pop music. There’s also a brilliant climax that’s both shocking and strange but shouldn’t be revealed.
Mexico, 2001. English subtitles. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 90 mins.

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