Keeping it Real

Photo by Debra DiPaolo

Pete Sollett and Victor Rasuk, the director and star, respectively, of Raising Victor Vargas, are sitting poolside at a trendy, tucked-away West Hollywood hotel, shivering beneath an electric heater and discussing the film that was loosely inspired by Victor’s real life. Like the character he plays (also named Victor), the 19-year-old Rasuk and his two younger siblings — a brother who also plays his brother in the film, and a sister — were raised in New York City by their Dominican grandmother, whom they all still call “Mom.” When asked in what ways his cinematic relationship with his brother might be similar to or different from their reality, Rasuk smiles:

“He doesn’t adore me like in the film. Our relationship isn’t as affectionate in real life. I mean, that’s what was really sweet about working together on the film. We got to have a different kind of relationship. We definitely look at each other a little differently now. There’s a kind of respect, you know?”

Having opened at festivals to almost universal critical acclaim, Raising Victor Vargas (which was workshopped at the venerated La Cinefondation in Paris, as well as at the Sundance Screenwriters Lab) is a coming-of-age film with potentially broad appeal, though it is being pushed as an art-house film. Which says less about the movie itself than it does about the limited ways that Hollywood perceives any story that has brown bodies in it: If shit ain’t blowing up and there are no crackheads onscreen, it’s gotta be “artsy.”

“I understand why it’s being marketed the way it is,” says the 27-year-old Sollett diplomatically. “My hope is that the movie starts out as an art-house film, but then grows to have a much larger audience. It’s just a matter of getting people into the theater. I think what people will discover once they see the film is that they are visiting a world that might be different from theirs, but the people in that world are identifiable.

“There are tons of great movies like that — very universal stories set in very specific places. This movie is a result of knowing [Victor and his fellow cast-mates] simply as people, not as Latino people. I guess I’m most interested in the things that are not different from place to place, from person to person.”

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