Argentinian filmmaker Julia Solomonoff is the director of The Last Summer of La Boyita, and her film—a ttff/13 selection—has broken my heart in the best possible way. I have seen few directors maintain such delicacy while effectively telling a story about a subject so potentially controversial.
Solomonoff—who teaches film directing at Columbia University and was at the ttff/13 as the facilitator of the RBC Focus: Filmmakers’ Immersion—introduced the first screening of The Last Summer of La Boyita and engaged in a Q&A session afterwards.
The film focuses on a little girl named Jorgelina, played by Guadalupe Alonso. Her sister Luciana (María Clara Merendino) has just entered puberty and predictably seeks independence and privacy away from her younger sibling. Jorgelina in turn decides to leave Luciana behind, as well as la boyita, the little camper van that bore witness to the girls’ secrets and confessions, and spend the summer in the countryside on her father’s farm. There she meets a farm boy and jockey named Mario (Nicolás Treise), whom she attaches herself to as a playmate.
Mario has already started his transition into adolescence, and it is gradually revealed that he is not “normal”. Mario has female sex organs. At birth, the doctors misidentified an enlarged clitoris for a penis and recorded the birth of a male baby. As his body changes and he continues to grow breasts and experience menstruation, he also suffers abuse and neglect from his father, who does not fully comprehend the possibilities and ramifications of such a medical situation.
The film climaxes at the horse races where Mario has to face tradition and test his manhood. If he wins, he has the chance to quell the growing prejudice of the other boys as well as prove to his father that he does possess worth, no matter what is happening underneath his clothes.
Through the friendship between Mario and Jorgelina, the beauty, kindness and innocence of children and childhood are portrayed. The Last Summer of La Boyita is both a coming-of-age tale as well as a tribute to those qualities of pre-pubescence. Set in the magnificent pampas prairies, the film is visually stunning. More than that, it is emotionally exquisite. Somonoff’s telling of this story though Jorgelina’s eyes, as she attempts to understand what Mario is going through, is quite masterful and the bittersweet nuances of the protagonists’ experiences find a way into your heart and mind and stay with you for days.
Jonathan Ali, editorial director of tfff/13, kicked off the Q&A session by addressing Solomonoff.
“This is a very touching and profoundly moving film,” he said, “about a subject that would have been very easy to treat sensationally. Yet you did it do beautifully and so subtly and poignantly. What was the inspiration behind the story?”
“There are a lot of things around me that made this film happen,” she said.
“In fact, this should have been my first feature but I didn’t have the confidence to get into the subject, so this became my second feature, and even though it is smaller in size and scope budget – it’s smaller than my first film – I felt as a director I needed to be more confident to do it.
“When I was Jorgelina’s age my mother [who] was a gynecologist and my father [who] was a psychiatrist were dealing with a very similar case to Mario, and I overheard a couple of conversations. This was a very particularly curious time and this was a particularly striking case, and I think in my imagination for many years I had a magical explanation for what happened to that boy or girl and I overlapped with a boy on the farm which was my mother’s family farm who was very shy but masculine, and I kind of mixed that together.
“Time passed and I did a lot of research because I take everything so seriously, and I did all kinds of medical and queer studies research and the biggest thing that happened is that when I was almost ready to shoot this, another film in Argentina came out with a similar subject, called XXY. It was very successful; it went to Cannes. So it really kind of forced me [to act] and in a way it was painful for me, because I felt that I have been with this film for years and all of a sudden this happens; a female filmmaker in my generation in my country. [I thought] it’s going to be very hard. In a way it forced me to really get rid of anything that was informational or research and find my own point of view on this, and to know why I wanted to still make this film and just stay closer to Jorgelina’s [point-of-view], and try to see this particular case much more through her eyes and less with any kind of explanation or context.”
Solomonoff went on to say that for her, this is the strength of the film.
“The very last scene that I filmed when we were shooting, the one where [Jorgelina] covers her ears [when her father is explaining Mario’s condition], I was very happy to find it because as an adult I couldn’t do it, but kids can do it and it was organic to the character and it was what I needed to do at that point…and not because I did not want to hear, but because I think [Jorgelina] has an answer that is more valid than any answer that the medical profession can give to this.”
“One of the most striking things is the landscape,” said Ali. “It is like another character in the film.” He then asked Solomonoff to talk about that landscape as well as the particular community that Mario and his family are from.
“We shot in the province where I was born, that is Entre Rios, and this place is incredible and the architecture is exactly as [I wrote it to be] because that architecture is that of the immigrants at the beginning of the [20th] century,” she said. “This is the way they did the houses and that was the house I spent many summers in and it was great to find the house because I felt like I knew the geography and everything around it.
“Entre Rios has many different communities—one of the oldest Jewish communities, one of the oldest Italian communities, this German community [that] is very particular, what they call Wolgadeutsche, that is, Germans that migrated to Russia because of religious persecution and then ended up in Argentina, and until probably the 60s they were very isolated, and a part of my family is related to that part and this boy that worked on the farm was part of this Wolgadeutsche community.”
An audience member also asked Solomonoff about the casting process. She revealed that when she went to visit Entre Rios and she met Nicolás, a non-actor, there was a quality to him that was exactly what she was looking for.
“Of course we saw other boys in casting but I just kept coming back to him.”
A point of interest is that the boy’s father in the film is also Nicolás’ father, Arnoldo Treise.
With respect to casting Jorgelina, Solomonoff said that it was a long process.
“We had seen hundreds of girls. A lot of the girls had the affectations of what they see acting as on TV and they did not feel real. Then in walks Guadeloupe and really I expected Jorgelina to be taller and more tomboyish. Guadeloupe is smaller but she was real.”
Since making the film both children have returned to their normal lives.