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Puberty is hard – feeling different from everyone else because of uncertainty over bodily changes; uncertainty over whether everyone’s experiencing the same transformations; hiding stuff; keeping secrets.

But eventually we all learn, over time, that while everyone’s experiencing a sense of difference, we are all pretty much the same.

But some people really are different.

And this is what is revealed in Argentinean movie The Last Summer of La Boyita. This coming-of-age tale is delivered from the perspective of urban kid Jorgelina (Guadalupe Alonso) whose older sis has just got her first period. Like most older sisters going through this milestone, she becomes very private and distant – preferring the company of her peers above that of her kid sibling.

So, poor rejected Jorgelina chooses to spend the summer with her doctor father in the Entre Rios province of Argentina. There she hangs out on a farm  and spends time with Mario (Nicolás Treise) – a young farmhand and horse racer who takes time out from helping his strict father to hang out with her a bit. However, he remains reluctant to relax into the joys of a hot summer – watching as Jorgelina swims, and refusing to shed his layers despite the heat.

And, as the tale develops, it becomes apparent that Mario has other reasons for not taking his shirt off.

Using limited dialogue and focusing on the body language between the two leads, director Julia Solomonoff captures the innocent bond between these two kids while building a growing tension as Mario’s secret emerges. Scenes of natural beauty, use of light and shade, and intense close ups on Mario’s tense, glistening neck as the uninhibited Jorgelina splashes about in the water, all contribute to the brooding atmosphere.

And the growing tension comes to a head when the curious Jorgelina spots blood on Mario’s saddle. Like most bright kids, this doctor’s daughter has done a fair amount of prying into human anatomy, especially with regards to sexual development. Realising that the situation isn’t as as her textbooks say it should be, she confides in her dad, but is reluctant to hear about it when her dad attempts to explain.

And, this is, for me, where this film falters. Apparently, Solomonoff chose to avoid pigeonholing Mario, so instead posed his secret as a question that is answered through the characters’ stories.

It’s a sensitive approach and when Jorgelina reacts to her father’s attempts to explain Mario’s condition by refusing to listen, it offers a beautiful picture of innocent friendship.

However, because it’s Mario’s secret that drives the film’s story along, it’s Mario’s secret we as an audience want to understand. You see, it’s hard to steer us humans away from our instinct to pigeonhole – however unattractive and dangerous this characteristic may be. So, despite Solomonoff‘s careful and sensitive telling of this story, I fear that the lack of  clear explanation leaves the audience in a difficult position. Many of us will end up jumping to incorrect conclusions and that’s a shame.

The Last Summer of La Boyita is released on DVD today by Peccadillo Pictures.

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