KVIFF 2019: Jonás Trueba & Itsaso Arana's Lyrical 'The August Virgin'
by Alex Billington
July 4, 2019
Most coming-of-age films are about teenagers, or younger kids, maybe even someone just starting their 20s. But it's rare we see a coming-of-age film about someone in their 30s, struggling with the realities of being an adult and growing up and how life changes right before your eyes. Before you know it, your hard-partying ways are over and many of your friends are gone and you're feeling lonely. What comes next? How do we figure out what matters? Who are we really? How do we proceed? These are just a few of the questions that The August Virgin attempts to confront, not with any definitive answers, but with a real intelligence and maturity that few films (of any genre) have. Originally titled La virgen de agosto, this Spanish film follows a woman in her early 30s as she drifts around Madrid during blazing hot summer weeks at the start of August.
Directed by Madrid-born filmmaker Jonás Trueba, and co-written by actress Itsaso Arana, The August Virgin is an exceptional slice of cinematic bliss - a lyrical, poetic, meandering film about the never-ending challenge in life to define ourselves and figure out a path to follow. Arana stars as Eva, a woman in her 30s just out of a relationship, who decides to rent an apartment and stay in Madrid during the hottest month of the summer while most other locals leave to cool off. The film features numerous chapters each marked by a title card indicating the date, but there's no real structure - we get bits & pieces of her daily life, sometimes more, sometimes not much, mirroring her own daily routine. Sometimes nothing happens, you just laze in bed and watch a parade go by. Sometimes a lot happens, you meet people and have intimate conversations.
This casual narrative is part of the brilliance of the film, because the naturalness of every moment pulls us deeper into the story and allows each & everyone one of us to feel connected to her experiences. We start to reflect our choices and our own lives in what we're seeing, sparking thoughts in our mind as we watch her take life one day at a time. I have been thinking about this film non-stop since I first saw it. There isn't just one interpretation or only one response or only one way to think about it, and there's so much that it puts in your own mind through its conversations and lovely moments. Little bits of daily life: from men constantly showing up to hit on women, to the great struggle to move on from your past, to the bliss of wandering around alone. What a wonderful, wonderful film. I really did not want it to end, I could've watched for days.
Time for a confession: I am completely in love with the lead woman in this, Itsaso Arana, who also co-wrote the screenplay. She's exceptional and brings so much in her performance and her feelings and struggles with young life nowadays. Oh my goodness. It seems as if she wrote this as an autobiographical examination of her life and what she's going through - she's 33 in real life, and in the film; she's an actress in real life, and in the film. And the more I think about it, the more I think this film really is coming-of-age – but this time the age she's coming to is 33, a point just beyond entering your 30s where many people fall apart. Not yet willing to let go of youth and everything that made them who they were in those days, though also not yet willing to fully become an adult and fall into routine. Yet, as always, you have to move on. Time doesn't stop.
But this is only my interpretation. And only one piece of the puzzle. I've already hour+ long conversations about this film at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival with friends and colleagues, discussing different scenes and moments. Everyone feels and reacts differently to everything in this film, yet the one thing that is the same - we're all profoundly moved by it. None of us can shake it. We wanted it to keep going – much like Linklater's Before series. We didn't want to leave her, we didn't want her story to be over. That's not to make it sound boring or grueling, but to explain how extraordinary this film is. How authentically it captures the feeling of your 30s; dealing with friends, dealing with your past, dealing with love, figuring yourself out. How cinema can often be a friend that sits with you and listens. Even without answers, that understanding is everything.
Alex's Karlovy Vary 2019 Rating: 9.5 out of 10
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