It is summer in New York in 1986, and adolescent Dito Montiel is dealing with growing up, gangs, his family and friends - and his future. In that future, in 2006, the adult Dito looks back on what happened that summer to determine the course of his life, and the lives of his friends.
The film was submitted for classification in November 2006 and the main issues for classification were:
- strong language
- strong sex references
- soft drug use
It rapidly became evident that a 15 classification would be necessary because of the regular use of strong language by the film's young characters. BBFC Guidelines allow for ‘frequent use of strong language’ at 15. There are some 270 uses of ‘f**k’ and thirteen of 'motherf****r'. For the most part this is simply the way the characters talk - the tone only becomes aggressive during tension between different gang members. The occasional use of 'nigger' (not by the film’s central characters) and 'faggot' are covered by the 15.
The film also offers some strong sex references in the context of sexual sparring and posturing - there are references to "Triple X movies with people f*****g pigs…I wanna see a pig get f****d" and "Which one of you wants to suck me off first?". The BBFC Guidelines at 15 allow for 'strong verbal references to sexual behaviour'. In terms of sexual behaviour, though, the film does not move beyond the sight of bare breasts as one young man attempts to persuade a girl to have sex with him. This level of sexualised nudity is acceptable at 15.
Drug-taking is a major social concern, and that is reflected by the way that drug use in film is treated by BBFC examiners. BBFC Guidelines on drug use permit drug-taking to be shown, but forbid the promotion or encouragement of the activity by the film as a whole. This means that the sight of Dito and his friends rolling or smoking joints as part of their life-style is not a problem at 15, because the drug use does not appear as glamorous, it is simply a feature of how these young people lived. The suggestion that Dito has sniffed amyl nitrate (poppers) is accompanied by a comment about the unpleasant effects. Equally unpleasant effects from the use of hard drugs are seen in Frank. His suggested taking of some unnamed illegal substances clearly undermine his physical and mental health, as can be seen from his frenetic behaviour. The film clearly suggests that drugs are for losers.
Dito and his friends live in an area where rivalry between neighbourhood gangs sometimes erupts into violence. The strongest reprisal takes place when Dito's friend Antonio has been kicked and beaten by the Reapers, provoking Antonio to take a baseball bat and hit a rival gang member over the head, with an audible clang, although we see no impact, injury or blood. The victim dies, and we learn that Antonio serves a very long prison sentence. So there is no endorsement of taking the law into your own hands, or using violence to solve problems. BBFC Guidelines on violence make clear that there should be no dwelling on 'the infliction of pain or injury’, which allows this scene to sit at the 15 category.
Examiners also considered the obvious dangers of fooling about on a railway track which are made plain in the film, as Antonio’s brother comes to a tragic end while doing so. This dangerous behaviour is not seen to be attractive, but ends in disaster, and was not considered a problem for the 15 rating.
A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints was also passed 15 on DVD and was selected for National Schools Film Week 2007.