La Valiente (English title: The Little Brave Girl, literal translation "The Brave One") is a 2003 short feature in Spanish, written and directed by Isabel Ayguavives. Running for just under 6 minutes in its original editing, the film deals with the fears and trials of childhood, seen through the eyes of an unnamed child played by Laura Ballesta.
Edited in a series of interlocking flashbacks, "The Brave One" follows a rite-of-passage subtext, expressing recurring themes of loneliness, fear and alienation. To quote Peter Keough of the Boston Phoenix: Few films evoke the traumas of growing up female as cogently as does Isabel de Ayguavives’s ... six-minute video of ... childhood humiliation, terror, and temptation.
Facing a frightening ordeal at the hands of two faceless adults, Laura Bellesta closes her eyes and recalls the events of the day, attempting to block out her encroaching panic. The narrative proceeds in a chain of painful memories in which Laura takes the position of a lonely outsider.
An intense fear Laura faces in her flashbacks is of deep water. The scene shows her looking at the water in fear of going under. The next scene shows classmates all jumping into the water, while Laura stands "frozen" on the platform. The teacher (coach) approaches her and removes the only sense of security she has against going under the water (her life vest), picks her up and lets her fall into the water. As he does so, you can see the fearful expression on her face. She hits the water and sinks several feet before coming back up again. There is no "after" scene to she how she reacted to this seemingly cruel attempt by the teacher to make Laura learn to swim. Over the years, this practice has been used by many swim instructors and family members to teach kids to swim.
The most striking sequence involves a torturous variation of a well-known children's game, in which the loser is physically penalized by the winner. Laura and two other girls are shown playing Spin The Bottle with three boys in a darkened store room, her isolation reinforced by being placed at the periphery of both groups. One of the boys reaches down and spins the bottle, which comes to rest pointing at Laura. Both of her friends snicker at her evident discomfort, and one of the boys produces a switch, startling the girl with a mock swipe.
In the next scene, Laura performs a handstand assisted by the two other girls. Holding her by the legs, they allow her skirt to fall away, exposing her underwear to the camera. The oldest of the boys then approaches, drawing back the switch and taking aim at her bottom. As the stick whistles down, Laura bites back on her tears, but finally squeals in pain as the whipping continues. The scene then cuts abruptly to a shot of Laura hiding in her bedroom, the suggestion being that she endured a lengthy switching before her 'round' was over.
This brief but intense sequence is notable for its low-key treatment of subjects considered taboo in Western culture. While Laura is obviously a voluntary participant, the scene perfectly illustrates the sense of helpless terror and humiliation experienced by many children - particularly little girls - at some point of their lives.
The film concludes with a revelatory scene, tying together all of the seemingly unrelated flashbacks. The frightening ordeal that Laura feared is one suffered by almost every child: hypodermic injections. Being somewhat undersized for her age, 'The Brave One' is required to undergo regular treatment, something she finds utterly terrifying. Ironically, she was willing to participate in the whipping game, undergoing far greater levels of pain than a simple injection could have delivered.
La Valiente was intitially screened at Spain's Festival de Alcala de Henares in 2004, winning first place and bringing Isabel de Ayguavives international recognition. At virtally every subsequent screening, the film has generated a considerable amount of praise and controversy. Speaking in an interview with Javier Ruiz de Arcaute, Ayguavives stated that La Valiente had attracted criticism from some quarters (most probably due to its implications of child sexuality and drug usage), remarking that some reviewers have described it as virtually 'unwatchable.' On the otherhand, La Valiente has garnered largely positive reviews from Spanish critics, particularly regarding the film's subjective vision and coming-of-age subtext:
- (The Brave One is) A tender episode in the childhood of a girl, speaking of the psychological forces which shape our lives during those first confrontations with ours earliest fears.
as well as on its technical merits and cinematic clarity:
- (...Ayguavives' film) is narrated in a very unique form, with a splendid assembly, and taking history towards a totally surprising hyperrealism.
Not surprisingly, while the feature remains virtually unknown in the English-speaking world, it has brought Isabel Ayguavives national recognition in her home country.
The switching scene
The 'switching' scene - albeit very short - has naturally attracted the attention of the online spanking community, due to its unique portrayal - rare in the present day - of children engaged in unambiguously corporal activities (although the film has less to do with spanking per se than in the above-mentioned themes of isolation and loneliness). Discussing the sequence in which Laura is whipped by an older boy, Ayguavives remarked that
... I tried to make something that would allow the spectator to sincerely participate in the game, to imagine, to completely recognize these common sensations.
Taken in context with the overall structure of the film, Ayguavives infers that many young girls had experienced the same sense of shame, fear and desperation that Laura suffered during the switching scene.
- IMDB gives La Valiente's year of production as 2004; this is apparently an error, as all Spanish sources date the production to 2003.
- Keough, Peter. "Frontier Justice: ‘New Films from Europe’ at the HFA." in The Boston Phoenix, January 21 - 27, 2005.
- Interestingly, while all three girls are wearing school uniforms, the boys are dressed in street clothes, suggesting that they aren't part of Laura's normal circle of acquaintences - a subtle play on the widespread belief that good girls are invariably attracted to 'bad' boys.
- In an interview with Javier Ruiz de Arcaute, Isabel Ayguavives admitted that La Valiente was at least partly autobiographical, in that she suffered a fear of injections as a child. See Ruiz de Arcaute, Javier. 'Isabel Ayguavives: La Valiente,' in Las Horas Perditas.
- When asked about the fear of needles common to many children and adults, Ayguavives replied that as a child "I used to cry over and over before our doctor dropped by for a house call. Now I 'behave' myself, but I still fear the pain (and am quite vocal about it in public - more than any other subject)". Ruiz de Arcaute, Javier. 'Isabel Ayguavives: La Valiente,' in Las Horas Perditas
- Certamen Nacional de Cortometrajes
- Cine por la Red
- Ruiz de Arcaute, Javier. 'Isabel Ayguavives: La Valiente,' in Las Horas Perditas. It might be assumed, by extention, that the whipping game was commonly played in Spain when Ayguavives was growing up.