By Gary M. Kramer.
Director Jonás Trueba’s enchanting, leisurely drama, The August Virgin, follows Eva (Itsaso Arana, who co-wrote the screenplay with Trueba) as she wanders around Madrid during the first two weeks of August. Everything and nothing happens to Eva as the hot, languid days go by. (Trueba charts the time with calendar intertitles). But viewers who fall under the spell cast by the film’s organic nature and quotidian rhythms of life will enjoy The August Virgin immensely.
Eva is at a kind of crossroads in her life. Over the course of the film, she discloses that she has worked as an actress, but is looking for something new. She is renting a friend’s apartment for two weeks but indicates that has no idea where she will live when that stay ends. Eva is also currently single.
The film follows Eva’s adventures in the city. She settles into her new living space and reads. She gets on a bus and follows a tourist to an archaeology museum, where she runs into Luis (Luis Alberto Heras), an old friend. They get a drink and talk all through the night. Locked out of her apartment (the key is tricky), Eva calls Sofía (Mikele Urroz), whom she has not seen in some time to spend the night. They talk frankly the next morning about their friendship and regret they have grown apart. When Eva returns home, she asks Olka (Isabelle Stoffel), a neighbor, to help her enter the apartment. Coincidentally, Olka is a performance artist Eva saw in the street with Luis the night before. They two women become friendly and go out dancing. They meet Joe (Joe Manjón) and his friend Will (an uncredited role), and head off to a clandestine bar with the possibility of romance.
The August Virgin follows this meandering trajectory with Eva having more encounters. With each person she meets, Eva talks about work, relationships, children, and other topics. At a riverside with Sofía, Olka, Joe, and Will, the characters discuss reinvention, and moving to a new city to start over. Eva, who has never left Madrid (save travel), is said to have the freedom that comes from staying within her own environment. This leads to the film’s central question: How do we become our true selves? The August Virgin is about Eva becoming who she is.
And her journey, like the film, is rewarding. Eva is drifting through life like she drifts through the city, taking what comes, admiring what she can, and reflecting on what she has. She registers her feelings in her expressions and body language, communicating happiness or anxiety (as when she’s fussy with a swimsuit). Her naturalness is involving and ingratiating.
When Eva goes to see a film one afternoon, her ex-boyfriend turns up. They chat, and she heads home to record the awkward encounter in the diary she is keeping. She returns to the cinema the next day to see the film she missed and overhears a conversation María (María Herrador) is having about a healing process. Eva makes an inquiry about it, and María arranges a therapy session. This leads to the two young women going out. The casual friendships Eva makes with women like Olka and María are gratifying not only because she (and, by proxy, viewers) get to experience someone, or something, new, but because the film invites chance and randomness to dictate what will happen. There is no big overarching drama or decisions or crises, just a gentle amble through the streets and life.
If The August Virgin builds to anything, it starts after Eva, having spent the night looking at shooting stars, sees Agos (Vito Sanz) on a restricted viaduct. She is concerned and goes to talk with him. He claims, “I’m never where I want to be,” and she fears he is suicidal. But he remains very much alive, as evidenced by her unexpectedly seeing him working at a bar the next evening. She soon contrives to meet him at an after-hours bar, and they talk, and bond, before he offers to show her a room he is planning to rent. What eventually transpires provides the delicate payoff to this unusual character study.
Arana is a delightful character to spend time with. It’s easy to get caught up in her life and in the lives of the people she meets and who pique her interest. When Eva smiles at Olka kissing someone at a concert, it is a lovely, throwaway moment. (Arana has a wonderful smile.) She later expresses feeling awkward and is charmingly self-conscious. Arana gives an assured performance that makes viewers understand her better as the film progresses.
The August Virgin is appealing because Trueba and Arana capture Eva’s magical period of self-discovery. It is both a seductive and intoxicating film.
Gary M. Kramer writes about film for Salon, Cineaste, Gay City News, Philadelphia Gay News, The San Francisco Bay Times, and Film International. He is the author of Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews, and the co-editor of Directory of World Cinema: Argentina, Volumes 1 & 2.