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. 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.