Who the Hell is Juliette?

Oct 14, 1998 at 12:00 am

After seeing Who the Hell is Juliette? one might reconsider the conventional wisdom that music videos have a wholly negative influence on feature films, or at least those which have adapted the form's desensitizing, epileptic editing and emphasis on visual sensation over meaning. This debut documentary by Carlos Marcovich, a rock video director from Mexico, shows how some of the less-remarked-upon aspects of the genre -- its impressionistic approach to narrative, its try-anything playfulness -- can be put to impressive use.

Juliette is Juliette Ortega, a teenager who lives in the sort of squalid area of Havana which reinforces all the bad things you've ever heard about Castro's Cuba -- though you can tell it's a Third World rather than American barrio, because nobody gets shot during the movie. Alternately sulky and charismatic, in a just-short-of-annoying, live-wire manner, Juliette befriends a 23-year-old Mexican model with soulfully translucent green eyes and the wonderfully appropriate name of Fabiola. The two bond while appearing together in a music video featuring a long-haired, Latino-teen-idol smoothie called Benny.

On the surface Fabiola and Juliette are opposites, the former having the natural gravity of someone who has experienced a lot of unsought attention, while the latter exudes the anxious energy of a mistrustful tough cookie looking for somewhere to land. But as their stories emerge, so do the similarities of their past: the absent father, the abusive mother -- in Juliette's case, grandmother -- and the pervasive poverty.

Though definitely a documentary, Marcovich's film plays with the idea that people are almost always "on," playing a role even when their role is that of being themselves -- or the director of a documentary. At times, Marcovich has one person speak as another, uses multiple takes to show the extent to which a scene has been staged, switches from color to black and white, from elaborately composed shots to ragged vérité, and keeps things moving very fast.

It's like a film Godard might make, if Godard were light-hearted. So it's one of a kind.

Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected].