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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

LA NAVAJA DE DON JUAN -- Movie Review by Porfle

Often the phrase "coming-of-age story" conjures up images of guys like Jonah Hill running around drunk in their underwear, trying to get laid but ending up having sex with a large fruit-filled pastry.  Or something like that. 

Which is just fine, of course, but thank goodness it doesn't always mean that.  Sometimes it means something much more realistic, thoughtful, and heartfelt like first-time writer/director Tom Sanchez' LA NAVAJA DE DON JUAN (Indican Pictures, 2015).

La navaja, or "folding blade knife", is passed down to eldest son Mario Alfaro (Rodrigo Viaggio) from his father, a policeman killed in the line of duty.  Mario's younger brother Walter (Juan Carlos Montoya) wants the knife for himself and finally wins it in an armwrestling match.  This helps to make up for the fact that Walter deeply envies horndogger Mario's ease with the female sex, since he himself is hampered by shyness and a general sense of insecurity.

When a girl named Pamela invites Walter to a party on the other side of town, his grandmother will allow him to go only if Mario accompanies him.  Mario will go only if he can either have the first dance with Pamela or get his knife back.  Their journey to the party is perilous and fraught with misfortune, as the entire first half of the film consists of them eluding gangs of young punks, dealing with aggressive hookers, and having ill luck with various modes of transportation. 

When they finally arrive, Walter attempts to overcome his shyness with Pamela while Mario's penchant for having several concurrent girlfriends catches up with him.  Also catching up with the two brothers are some violent thugs who have unfinished business with them, resulting in some intense and potentially deadly confrontations that threaten to spin out of control.

While covering some of the same ground as other coming-of-age stories, LA NAVAJA DE DON JUAN is gripping and consistently engaging in its naturalistic style and non-contrived situations, much of which Tom Sanchez gleaned from his boyhood recollections of stories told to him by his father and uncle in Peru.  The humor is similarly true to life and emerges naturally from the characters and situations without ever going over the top.

Best of all is the genuine warmth generated by Sanchez' screenplay which colorfully describes the rocky, warts-and-all relationships between the brothers and their family, a grandmother (Irma Maury) and uncle (Antonio Arrué) who have raised them, and their equally turbulent dealings with various guy and girl friends which should be easily relatable for most viewers.

Sanchez also succeeds in giving us a nostalgia-hued view of his native city of Lima, Peru and its people, making them an essential element in the story.  (Dialogue is in Spanish with English subtitles.)  Technically, the film displays the skill and confidence he's gained from his years as a journeyman in TV and short film production as well as a generally keen instinct for filmmaking.

Performances are fine, especially from the two leads. The rest of the characters are well-cast with a particularly good performance by Claudia Solís as a young hooker named Candy with whom Mario becomes deeply involved for better or worse.

The brothers come through their life-changing experience with no grand finale or shattering epiphany, but with new insights into their own lives and heritage.  The knife itself is, of course, symbolic of a number of things including the double-edged nature of life and love. The rest of it you'll want to interpret for yourself if you decide to watch LA NAVAJA DE DON JUAN, which I recommend as one "coming-of-age" story that really does justice to the term.


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