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Debutantes, Los
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by Brian McKay

"Not a frilly chiffon dress or formal ball in sight . . ."
4 stars

A Chilean crime drama that borrows more than a few conventions from Tarantino’s earlier films, LOS DEBUTANTES (THE NEWCOMERS) moves the narrative forward through a progression of flashbacks. Established events have a new spin put on them, when seen from a different character’s perspective, with each character representing a side of a dangerous love quadrangle.

Silvio (Nestor Cantillana) takes his virgin kid brother Victor (Juan Pablo Miranda) to a strip club, where the girls give more than lapdances in the back rooms. Since it’s Victor’s eighteenth birthday, Silvio buys him some time with one of the girls. But while Victor is getting serviced, Silvio manages to subdue a drunken customer who pulls a gun on the club’s bouncers. This catches the eye of the club’s owner, Don Pascual (Alejandro Trejo), a notorious gangster who is impressed enough to offer Silvio a job as his driver and errand boy.

While Silvio is occupied with this impromptu job interview, Victor emerges from his back room session, and becomes instantly enraptured with the stunning Gracia (Antonella Rios), who is performing a whip-cream covered nude dance on stage. He doggedly pursues her, eventually tracking her down at her day job and asking her out – without realizing that she is Don Pascual’s mistress (although “property” would perhaps be a more apt description).

While she strings the eager young Victor along, she also seduces Silvio during a week when Don Pascual is out of town. When he returns, Pascual is suspicious of Silvio (and rightly so, especially since Silvio's been shagging Gracia for the past week in Pascual’s own house), but can’t prove that anything happened. Nevertheless, the tension grows between Silvio and Pascual, and when Victor sees Silvio and Gracia together from a distance, he predictably reacts with a fit of jealous rage.

The most compelling character of the piece is Gracia, a gorgeous woman who has been under Pascual’s thumb since the age of fifteen. Her only weapons are sex and seduction, and she uses them both quite effectively on Pascual and the two brothers. Hoping that Silvio can help her be rid of the abusive and domineering Pascual, she plays both ends against the middle with tragic, but not completely unexpected, results. The more we learn about Gracia, the more intrigued and repulsed we are by her. She is both the seductive manipulator and the victim of the piece, perhaps having some genuine feelings for each of the brothers, but primarily using them for her own ends.

The performances in The Newcomers are fantastic. Trejo plays the slimy gangster with just the right amount of denial about how repugnant Gracia really finds him. Even when she tells him that she snorts coke because it’s the only way she can stand to have sex with him, he blames her outburst on the drugs because his machismo won’t allow him to accept the truth. Cantillana and Miranda imbue the film with a good sense of brotherly affection and rivalry. But Rios is the real jewel of the cast, giving us a character that is as much of a casualty as a femme fatale. Director Andres’ Waissbluth builds pacing and tension proficiently, deftly segueing into flashback or retell portions of the narrative.

For some reason, however, he seems to find an excuse for Gracia to be naked about every ten minutes. And while Rios is a stunning woman, and it’s certainly not a hardship to see her finest features on full display, it becomes distracting and excessive after a while. Yes, she’s a whore - we get that. She doesn’t need to be in the buff every third scene to reaffirm that point. Although I’m usually the last person to complain about excessive female nudity in a film, it seems that Waissbluth was at times more interested in showing off Gracia's ta-ta’s than getting really deep into her character. There’s also a subplot about her young son, who apparently lives in an orphanage, which is given precious little explanation. It is hinted at that the child is Pascual’s. But how would she be able to keep the child’s existence hidden from him, if she’s been his sexual slave since she was a teenager? It’s hard to believe that he would let her out of his sight for more than a week, much less the 9-plus months she would need to give birth and recover from a pregnancy.

These small flaws and nagging, unanswered questions aside, THE NEWCOMERS is an engaging film that mostly delivers, in spite of an ending that feels a bit too abrupt. If nothing else, it certainly drives home the moral of "Never mess with the boss’s woman" – especially when the boss keeps a pair of Neanderthals in his employ who would just as soon break your kneecaps as look at you.

link directly to this review at https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=9293&reviewer=258
originally posted: 04/29/04 07:45:38
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 San Francisco Film Festival. For more in the 2004 San Francisco Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/18/06 Lily Truthful, interesting characters 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  N/A (NC-17)
  DVD: 21-Dec-2004

UK
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Australia
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