On Sunday the Vancouver Latin American Film Festival came to a close and I was lucky to catch one of the last screenings, Joven y Alocada. The Chilean film was the debut feature for director Marialy Rivas, who co-wrote the screenplay with Camilla Gutierrez. The film, based on Gutierrez’s experiences is a powerful and intimate look into the life of Daniela, a sexually adventurous, bisexual seventeen year old growing up in a strict Evangelical family. Daniela’s struggle to satisfy her desires and wrestle with her waning faith provides the pivotal points of conflict in this beautifully constructed film.
When we first meet Daniela she is quietly pleasuring herself amidst a crowd of sleeping strangers. Moments afterwards she departs at the nagging insistence of her ringing phone, and hops on a bus where we quickly receive a barrage of past sexual escapades from her memory banks. It is here that the film abruptly switches gears when we see Daniela’s ultimate destination, Sunday Mass at her family’s Evangelical church. Judging by her behaviour in the ceremony it is clear that Daniela is having a crisis of faith, something this is not lost upon her devout mother. Although Daniela’s home life is strict, she is able to find release in her blog, Joven y Alocada (translation: Young and Wild), where she writes about her sexual exploits and interacts with commentators. When Daniela is expelled from her school one month before college placement exams for ‘fornicating’ with a teenage boy, her mother refuses to enroll her in a new school and threatens to send her on an Evangelical mission to Paraguay. At the protests of her cancer stricken aunt, Daniela is instead sent to work at an Evangelical TV network. Here she begins pursuing both the pious Tomas and the adventurous Antonia. When Daniela develops strong feelings for them both, she winds herself into an even tighter knot of conflicting desires and interests.
Joven y Alocada is both funny and heartbreaking in its honesty. The film, which won the award for World Cinema Best Screenplay at Sundance, provides a refreshing look at a young woman’s sexual experience with a strong and relatable character. Daniela is still scrambling to get a hold of her identity and as such faces many challenges. At home, she is constantly at odds with her mother, whose good intentions are overcome by her strict demeanor and unwillingness to accept her as she is. Daniela is able to relate to her more accepting Aunt Isabel, the oasis of calm in her tumultuous life.
The film also provides attractive stylistic elements such as title cards that work to split the story into separate chapters or ‘gospels’, with each section either progressing the narrative or providing back-story. When we see Daniela updating her blog, the entries come to life, allowing the film to hone in on the interactivity between her and her readers. We see Daniela’s posting and the camera takes us into the rooms of those reading and commenting. Like any internet forum, some are supportive, others raunchy and just plain rude, though it is uplifting to see Daniela’s reach and effect on others. The release Daniela receives from spilling her feelings to her online audience helps her deal with both internal conflict and the repressive life style she deals with at home. Finally, Joven y Alocada would be nothing without strong performances, and Alicia Rodríguez is entrancing as Daniela. She brings to life the passions and internal conflict that makes Daniela such a lively character. Her portrayal is one of the most realistic images of a young woman on screen I have seen in some time, and perfectly encapsulates the mad desires and challenges of any youth seeking their identity. This is a fantastic film indeed, and my favourite from the festival this year.