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IN SHORT: Promising filmmaker. Weaker story.
At the start of Val Lik's Boricua's Bond, rap star Big Pun (as in Punisher) looks directly into the camera and says "You wanna be an artist? F*** school!" That attitude, though there is a nod here and there towards doing required schoolwork, runs rampant throughout the film as a group of kidlets (as opposed to an organized gang, which they are not) run unchecked through the South Bronx, basically looking for things to do. What 21 year old writer/director Lik manages to do, regardless of any positive or negative comment to follow, is create a world on screen that lets you walk away connected to it; to an environment so alien to most of us that the only emotional feeling you take away is sadness. That's a remarkable accomplishment for a relative newcomer, and we'll pat him on the back for it.
As the film closes, the following words appear on the screen (again, after Punny tells you what to do with school):
"Dream It . . . Believe It . . . Don't Rest Until You Do It"
I'm guessing that the words speak directly to a ghetto raised audience, 'cuz that's how I'd position an ending if I was a 21 year old who managed the monumental task of scripting, casting, raising the cash to direct his vision. Lik's script, though, creates a "universe" in which there isn't any hope; there is very little encouragement; there is a ingrown sense in most of the characters that life will end before their twentieth birthday. The title as explained by Lik, a Russian émigré who from age 1 has lived in a Latino community, refers not only to the banding together of a community, but to "a code of conduct . . . a bond between family, friends and a whole society." The problem, at least for me, is if this world represents the bonding of friends, friends like these you absolutely don't need.
Our star is Tommy (Frankie Negron), who dreams of being an artist. Tommy has enough talent and manages to sell enough of his paintings to get older brother Antonio (Jesglar Cabral) out of jail. Tommy's dad (Manuel Jesus Cabral) doesn't want his elder son back in the house because of his drug dealing ways and, frankly, dad doesn't want his wife (Elsa Canals) around all that much either. It is as close to a stable household we'll see of all the kids that Tommy hangs with. For most, school is an afterthought. Christine (Erica Torres), convinced that all the boys on the block are in love with her, is determined to be the best whore she can be and has already talked to local pimp Santa (Maurice Phillips) about signing on. A couple of punks named Axel and Wilson (Ramses Ignacio and Jorge Gautier) hang on the street, ripping off folks from outside the neighborhood who don't belong there. The good girl of the group, who tries to do her homework and keeps her panties up where they belong is Rose (Kaleena Justiniano), who Tommy fancies. That all changes when widow Susan Miller (Robyn Karp) and her son Allen (Val Lik) move into the neighborhood. As the only white faces in a Latino and Black neighborhood, they are easy targets. Their would be protector, a cop named Highlander (Marco Sorisio), is a corrupt pig who, when Susan rejects his advances, hires/blackmails some of Tommy's friends to beat her into his loving arms.
Tommy's a good kid. Loves his parents and his brother, despite the drinking and the drugs and the arguments. He treats Rose, the object of his affection, with respect. While the local punks, some his friends, see Allen and his mom as a couple of faces ripe for mugging, Tommy offers a hand in friendship and protection. It should've made my liberal heart swell. The sad thing is that Tommy's ticket out shows up the day after the violence inherent in his life has permanently shattered the family he holds dear. Same day he discovers that Rose has eyes for a different man. More than that you don't need to know.
Cranky may be a poor white guy whose life experience isn't close to that of the Puerto Rican ghetto, but what I see in Boricua's Bond is a world without hope, where friendship means little and respect means less. Where outsiders aren't wanted. Where "insiders" don't believe they can get out. Where stereotype and race loyalties rule. Where a message of hope aimed by the filmmaker towards the kids he grew up with misses the mark on a viewer who sees nothing in the story that offers a reason to hope. (Don't forget, Cranky's been paralyzed three different ways. I can see hope in almost anything.)
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Boricua's Bond, he would have paid...
Rental level. Though the film is in English, there's enough material in Spanish that the Hispanic folks I was sitting with were understanding lots of stuff that went right by these ears. That means that elements of the film hit the right notes with its demographic target. The problem remains that the story doesn't communicate its meaning outside of the community.
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