News Column

'Babygirl' depicts a bizarre love triangle in the Bronx

September 30, 2013

YellowBrix

Sept. 30--Macdara Vallely, the writer/director of "Peacefire" and two movie shorts, wrote and directed "Babygirl," a new movie about a plucky, parentified, Nuyorican Bronx teenager Lena (Yainis Ynoa), who is the object of advances by her mother's sketchy boyfriend, Victor (Flaco Navaja).

Vallely, 40, who was raised in Northern Ireland, now lives in the Pelham Parkway section of the Bronx with his wife, Vanessa (an esthetician who worked as a script editor on "Babygirl"), and their 2-year-old son, Alonso.

The award-winning "Babygirl," which was shot largely in the Bronx and features a Nuyorican cast, opens Friday, Oct. 4, at the Quad (34 W. 13th St.) for a one-week run.

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You were inspired to write this movie after seeing a teenage girl on the 2 train reject the attentions of an older guy who then hit on her easily flattered mother. Did you have a parent who made relationships with romantic partners a higher priority than the well-being of her children?

No! I had two very nice parents. My mother was a teacher and my father was a musician. But I identify with the story and I know situations like that. Being a parent is very challenging. You only realize how challenging once you have your own children -- then you cut your own parents some slack. I have a lot of compassion for Lucy's predicament. Lucy (played by Rosa Arredondo) is very lonely and has a lot of needs that can't be met within the family. If I'd become a parent in my 20s, I don't think I'd have been such a good parent. And there is love between Lena and Lucy.

What are the similarities of Irish culture and Latino culture?

We both share colonial pasts, place an importance on family and we like to enjoy ourselves. I married into a Puerto Rican family -- my wife told me she wouldn't marry me unless I learned how to dance salsa. We're raising a kid who speaks Spanish and Irish and understands English. We're experimenting on our kid, because, well, you can't experiment on other people's kids.

Both cultures also share the influence of Catholicism. Growing up in Northern Ireland (as a Catholic) I was definitely on the on the wrong side of society -- you're not a part of the privileged class. But Latinos face the added aspect of racial discrimination. In New York, if you're a minority there is a likelihood that you are a part of the economic underclass and live in the outer boroughs. You see it on the trains: Once the train gets past 149th St., I'm often the only white person in the carriage. That marker is just huge. I wanted this movie to be a very broad representation of Puerto Rican people -- the kind of people I know. Flipping through television, you don't get that diversity.

There are scenes that read visually like a love letter to Bronx parks.

One of the things I love about this city are the green spaces, particularly in the Bronx. People celebrate their lives in these shared spaces: We live in these tiny little apartments and people have their birthday parties and barbeques in the parks. They're such a big part of summer in New York and provide such a contrast to all the asphalt and concrete surfaces.

But in "Babygirl," there's no garbage! The parks look so clean!

Well, at Lena's Sweet 16, you'll see she's cleaning up her own garbage (after her birthday party). People should definitely clean up after themselves.

You thank the Irish Film Board for its support in "Babygirl's" credits. Is Ireland more supportive of the arts than the U.S., where even major directors seek funding on Kickstarter?

On a per capita basis, there's much more support for film production in Ireland than in the U.S. There's a public body, The Irish Film Board, and they award funds for movies according to merit. It's not perfect, but it allows people like myself to make movies and to break into the movie making business. It's a really good idea and turns out good movies. The awards are contingent on doing at least a part of the production in Ireland -- we did our post-production there -- so it supports all the local industries as well. In the U.S., they give you tax breaks.

Props for capturing the difficulty of being a teenager -- especially a teenaged girl -- in NYC.

There's a lot at stake in a person's life at that age. Teenagers often don't have the resources to deal with the problems they confront because they're young and inexperienced, yet the decisions they make can have implications for the rest of their lives. That's a situation that lends itself to drama. I was really anxious that Lena not come across as a victim. In most films, young women are either sirens or victims and I wanted Lena to be bigger than just one of those two things. She fights back.

What was your greatest challenge in making "Babygirl"?

The casting! Finding the lead actors! It just took forever. We had all but given up on the casting the lead, then during the last open call Yainis (Ynoa) read. She did the scene where the mother kicks the daughter out of the house and made my wife cry. My wife was just sitting there with tears rolling down her face.

Why don't we see more movies about believable people with real life problems?

Tons of movies like mine are made every year -- they just don't get seen because distribution is so difficult. To roll a movie out is very expensive and filled with risk.

It's really, really tough to get any movie made, and the people who make them are exposed to so much risk, they're forced to go for the low hanging fruit by making movies about super heros and so on. Unless you have big stars attached to a movie, it's very difficult to get a broad release so you rely on a good festival run and getting a few awards.

Why isn't "Babygirl" being shown in the Bronx, the borough it depicts with so much affection?

This is a platform release. If it does well at the Quad, it could expand to the other boroughs. ... I've lived in the Bronx for seven years and wouldn't live in any other borough. It's my favorite part of the city. I'm in the Pelham Parkway section and 10 minutes from my house is the Bronx Zoo. A quick bike ride away is Arthur Avenue or City Island.

Do you consider Victor, the character who courts Lucy to get access to her daughter, a pedophile?

Flaco Navaja, who played him, and I talked a lot about that in rehearsals. Victor has an intense physical attraction to Lena but actually starts to fall in love with her. "Lolita" was in the back of my mind in that regard. There's definitely something there in terms of the power play between Victor and Lena and how that power play gets reversed. He might be physically 25 or 26, but he's a bit of a child himself -- and Lena is actually more mature.

Lena opts not to live with her aunt, who seems much more stable and better able to provide adult guidance than her mother.

In the story, Lena is given a choice of leaving her mother, but she chooses to stay. It's a big choice, and not the easiest choice. She can't resist the pull of family and that's something we all deal with than in our own families.

There's a marked absence of decent dads in the film. Where are the fathers?

This is about the relationship between mothers and daughters and girls and their friends. The fact is a lot of people in the Bronx, and in the U.S. and in Ireland as well, are from single-parent homes. It's a small movie! You can't do everything!

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