Hooker tale is a Havana peep show
He was shooting a music video for a Mexican rocker named Benny. He was in Cuba with the singer and a green-eyed Mexican model, Fabiola Quiroz, when he met a striking and self-possessed Cuban girl, a spitfire named Yuliet Ortega.
Taken by the girl's uncanny resemblance to the model, green eyes and all, the director hired her to play Fabiola's little sister in the music video. It was the beginning of an amazing ride through the parallel, sometimes intertwining lives of the model and the girl, a sometimes jinetera -- a prostitute -- who has sex with Italian tourists at Guanabo Beach for meals, gifts and a dollar a day.
Years after the Mexico-based Marcovich set eyes on a 13-year-old Yuliet, he delivers to us a film titled Who the Hell is Juliette? Using documentary and feature movie devices, the film, which opens at 8 p.m. Friday at the University of Miami's Bill Cosford Theater, tells the true stories of Yuliet, now 18, and Fabiola.
The street-smart Yuliet, the quintessential Havana hood rat, harbors a
sobering tale: Her father fled Cuba and the family on the Mariel boatlift
when she was 6 months old. Her mother committed suicide by setting
herself on fire, leaving Yuliet and brother Michel to be raised by their hot-tempered grandmother. The girl was raped by a neighborhood thug at 14, then slipped into the tawdry street culture of Cuba's sex tourism.
The film is often disjointed and overwrought in device, but it haunts you. The night I saw it I dreamed I had landed in Havana, in Yuliet's crumbling barrio of San Miguel del Padron.
The 91 minutes add up to a Havana-inspired peep show.
But what is exposed in the stylish and free-form documentary is not sex. Certainly, there are enough examples of Havana-style hypersexuality to make you cringe. You see the ugly tourist mugging for the camera, laughingly slapping the bottom of his girl-for-hire. You see young neighborhood girls grinding their hips to a popular salsa rap. You see Yuliet, then 16, playing with her young cousin's sexual organs. You see Fabiola's bare breasts -- and you hear her and other characters talk about them ad nauseam. You hear Yuliet's unflinching descriptions of her fleeting johns and their shortcomings.
Yet, with the exception of Fabiola's inoffensive flashing, none of the above constitutes sex. The thread of reality that runs through Juliette feels more like a violation than an invitation. What is the foreign plundering of Cuban girls if not an act of violence?
But, of course, that's my ideology speaking, not necessarily the director's. In fact, a viewer would be hard pressed to find any political reference in Marcovich's film. The universal reach of Yuliet's story is underscored with each tangential reference to Fabiola's life. Perhaps this is what has won the film such wide acceptance, why it opened to critical acclaim in New York two weeks ago, why it scored big prizes at the Havana and Sundance film festivals, that it is a story that reaches beyond Havana.
To his credit, the director even turned the peep show on himself, exposing the alien lenses that descend upon Cuba for that sepia touch.
Marcovich's probing into the life of the girl who asked him for nail polish outside the Plaza Hotel hoisted Yuliet into another sphere. It took her to Mexico, where she was wooed by a modeling agent. It put her on stage at the Havana Film Festival. It even landed her next to the writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez one night at Havana's Cohiba hotel. Garcia Marquez, a heavyweight supporter of the project, complimented Yuliet, who just stared at him. Not sure who her admirer was, she quipped, ``You are so silly!''
In my Cuban heart, I found Juliette disturbing to watch. I was less interested in Fabiola's roots search than I was in Yuliet's drama, her ranting telephone calls with her father in New Jersey, her eventual meeting with him in Mexico, her brush with the world of international modeling, her scrappy habitat, her hard edges. But each time I was engrossed in that part of the story, the filmmaker threw in a distraction, an inside joke, a surreal device. He wouldn't let me in.
I realized this was a metaphor for Havana itself, pushing all the world's buttons, but ultimately holding out.
Copyright © 1998 The Miami Herald
Copyright © 1998 The Miami Herald