WHO THE HELL IS JULIETTE? (Quién diablos es Juliette?)

(director/writer/cinematographer/editor: Carlos Marcovich; screenwriter: Carlos Cuarón; cast: Yuliet Ortega, Fabiola Quiroz, Victor Ortega, Michel Ortega, Salma Hayek, Oneida Ramírez; Runtime: 90; Kino International; 1997-Mexico)

“An irreverent documentary about a childishly giggling and seductive 16-year-old prostitute living in the Havana barrio of San Miguel del Pradon.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An irreverent documentary about a childishly giggling and seductive 16-year-old prostitute living in the Havana barrio of San Miguel del Pradon. The Juliette of the title is Yuliet Ortega, who searches for her identity through those who know her best: her neighbors, family and friends. They are interviewed and relate in a colorful way what they know about her. What is refreshing, is to see how shameless she is about her prostitution — she sees it as her only way to survive. She is also seen in a bold light offering her impulsive opinions about anything, which sometimes are so blunt and cold that they hit the mark. A more educated person might not have been able to say what she did in such an offhand manner and have gotten away with it.

What this film has going for it are: its original story line, the brashness of the star, and of the cinematic skills of its 35-year-old Mexican director, Carlos Marcovich. Also, the unpredictability of where the film is going. The problem I had, at times, I lost interest in the flighty story. There was one too many scene of Yuliet (that’s how she spells her name) looking at the camera and inanely giggling into it as if she was a Special Ed student being questioned by her perplexed but understanding teacher. This film closely resembles what a free-spirited college student could do on a videocam, though here every scene looks beautifully shot and all the improvisationals have an air of professionalism about them. But I wouldn’t go overboard in praising the film, as it seems to be based on very low expectations.

This unorthodox, non-linear film, impulsively examines the lives of two close friends who both have never met their fathers. Juliette and her 23-year-old friend, a sultry green-eyed model from Mexico, Fabiola. The movie moves haphazardly from settings which include Cuba, Mexico, Los Angeles, New York and New Brunswick, N.J.. It moves in the same zig-zag fashion in going to different people for some Yuliet info via the interview format, such as her father Victor living in New Jersey whom she hasn’t seen since she was a baby. He suddenly shows up on her doorsteps with the help of the director’s arrangements and says, “I’m your father.” She replies, “I didn’t know you’d be so ugly.” In truth, her mother became despondent after a disappointment with her current lover and committed suicide by setting herself on fire. This came when Yuliet was very young, and it was only one year after Victor left. She doesn’t completely warm up to her father, but does seem interested in seeing him. His story of why he left, differs from her mother’s. He said he went to America, risking his life on the sea to better provide for his family and expected her mother to follow. He is now an electrician, living with another woman and raising their family in the suburbs of New Brunswick.

The film is loose and brash, filled with youthful exuberance and energy; it constantly introduces peripheral characters such as neighbors, relatives, and casual acquaintances into the story who add a cartoonish flavor. But the film is too scattered to mean much. It resonates only in flashes, as scenes change on the go before anything could be developed.

Yuliet’s younger brother Michel is made fun of for being a Christian and a masturbator; when he’s on camera he appears to be a serious young man. There are a few earthy interviews with Yuliet’s grandmother who raised the troublesome child and resorted to beating her constantly, even once cracking her skull open with the heel of her shoe.

Whatever hope there is for Yuliet, is shown when she travels to Mexico on Fabiola’s recommendation to a modeling agency and has a tryout. This real-life look at Yuliet took place in the years from 1995-1997. Her story has some merits…if the film’s superficiality doesn’t get under your skin. The director, noted as a rock video cinematographer, took a risk with this one because he comes pretty close to coming up with nothing. I would have to say that he won; he gets away with a very slight story that is full of energy thanks to the veracity of Yuliet’s performance and the hectic rhythmical ways he filmed the story. That gives the film its poetical strength.

Who the Hell Is Juliette? Poster