When shooting a music video in Cuba, director Carlos Macovich chooses a young Havana jintera to dance opposite the model Fabiola Quiroz. Several years later, he returns to find out what happened to the pretty, feisty girl they picked off the street to dance in their video. The documentary explores Yuliet's and Fabiola's relationships with the families, their fathers, and each other.


An unconventional documentary about an unconventional subject, Who the Hell Is Juliette? introduces to us a young Cuban woman who has survived in Havana under the most difficult circumstances. Although she had previously found the briefest of fame as somebody slightly more prominent than an extra in a music video, her life remains profoundly arduous: she alludes to working as a prostitute; the grandmother who raised her describes beating her; her mother attempted suicide by self-immolation but did not die right away, succumbing a short time later to a heart attack; her father has moved to the United States and has a new family there; later in the film Juliette describes being raped.

And yet despite all this, the documentary is strutting, flippant, at times quite silly. The director suggests that one way to draw out the resilience of these characters and allow them to show both their vulnerabilities and the grace they bring to their suffering is through a playful energy, and does so without making of their grace or their suffering a virtue (a morality and a platitude that would not fit in with the film).

Comic appropriation of the documentary form is epitomized by that oeuvre of collaborative projects involving Christopher Guest (from This Is Spinal Tap to A Mighty Wind). These "mockumentaries" have gained much comic mileage from the deeply self-conscious attempts of its characters to appear unself-conscious in front of the camera. The more effort they put into pretending not to be self-conscious (an ironically self-conscious effort) the more they reveal their affectations, snobberies, etc. Who the Hell Is Juliette? sidesteps this problem of self-consciousness by giving the characters the room to be self-conscious about themselves and each other: they play and impersonate one another, they swagger and dance and mock. Their identities then are not fixed into a specific narrative but develop out of a lattice of relationships, interpersonal and evolving, laughing and dancing, at once intimate and distant.

Although the jumbled cuts and varying styles of the cinematography may suggest a music video or puzzle, a better analogy may be mosaic or collage. And from this evolves a winning, impressionistic film about people who cherish and enjoy their lives, not despite the hardships they endure but through them.


In Spanish with English subtitles. Winner of the Latin America Cinema Award at the Sundance Film Festival (1998)

Primary Source

Kino Video DVD (2000)