Life is not flowers
This would be an easy film to overlook. The title - "Violet Perfume" - is not terribly evocative, and the story of a troubled young girl has been done an awful lot in recent years.
Well, it's not how many times a story has been done as what you bring to it. The setting here is a corner of the vast urban sprawl of Mexico City where young teen Yessica is enrolled in a new school after being kicked out of her old one for slapping the principal. Yessica is a bit of a spazz, this bundle of energy and emotion that needs continual release. Her home life is not encouraging, and leaves little for her to build a life upon. Her mother continually sides against her to keep peace in a blended family. This is a family below the poverty line and their situation is fairly dismal for the modern world. Jorge is the son of Yessica's stepfather and of similar age to Yessica, and they don't really like each other. Aside from playing with the younger children, there doesn't seem to be much here for Yessica.
At school, where most of the kids are not friendly to the strange new girl, Yessica strikes up a friendship with Miriam, a more subdued sort, the daughter of a single mother who works in a shoe store. They spend lots of time together - Yessica luxuriates in the tub in their apartment, which is a bit of a wonder compared her own relatively open home. Two guys in school take an interest in them and the world seems to be looking up for Yessica.
But that's not the whole story. Jorge works on a tram with slimeball driver. They drive around without passengers and try to catch Yessica coming home from school. When they do, the driver pays Jorge to stay quiet when he rapes her. Yessica becomes more unreliable after each of these incidents. She gets into trouble at school. She takes advantage of Miriam's friendship. At one point, she snatches a bottle of expensive perfume at a market and runs. Unwitting Miriam is stuck dealing with the theft, and nearly has to go to jail. People blame Yessica directly and fail to look for any real reasons for what's going on, and she doesn't offer any.
The film comes to a shocking, tragic, strange, and revealing ending unlike any other I can recall - what is truly the best way to sum up this trial of a film. As I left the screening, my face was a blank, which I'm sure was there since early on in the film. Without the ending, we'd have merely an effective, insightful look into a troubled soul, much like another film, "Hi, Tereska". I want to call the ironic, but so-perfect last scene the frosting on the cake, but the material is not so light and airy I can get away with that. Too bad I'm not a gravy person...
One of the lingering questions from my own trip to Mexico City some years ago was the omnipresent mounds of debris around the city. Do buildings just fall down occasionally, or construction trucks not quite contain their loads? They don't make explanations, but at least we see people making the piles nice and tidy.
Violet Perfume is a more than worthy film. It'll put you through the wringer, but you'll be glad for the experience
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