Pimps & Prostitutes: Truth or Fiction?

By IRINA ECHARRY

 From the Cuban film “Broken Gods” by Ernesto Daranas
From the Cuban film “Broken Gods” by Ernesto Daranas

HAVANA TIMES, March 5- El cuartico está igualito (The little room is just the same) is a refrain from a popular song, and it seems to be the thesis of the Cuban movie Los dioses rotos (Broken gods), which is being shown in cinemas in the capital.

Set at the beginning of the 21st century the film is complete with passion, violence, threats, sex and blood.

Alberto Yarini Ponce de León, the most prominent pimp of all time, a popular idol, worshipped by men and women, is the pretext to delve into a part of society that after a hundred years, and despite the many social changes that the island has undergone, continues to experience almost the same circumstances.

The first quality one can appreciate about the movie is that it is free of jokes. The Cuban public, accustomed to comedies since the 1990s (except for a few exceptions), might have otherwise grown drowsy in another cloud of silliness, but Ernesto Daranas’ debut steers us clear of this peril.

Contrary to what one might think at the beginning of a plot full of proud and very macho men, women are the main characters; they are the ones who guide this tale.

Laura, a philosophy professor at the university, develops a thesis around the character Yarini. To achieve her objective she explores a reality that is not generally known, and therefore not understood. In this way, she leads us by the hand through the subterranean world of today’s Havana that throbs parallel to us, though many ignore it.

From the Cuban film “Broken Gods” by Ernesto Daranas

The other leading character is Sandra, a young waif who was born and still lives in a violent, dark environment. She leaves prison to again face the life that she left, and which forever pursues her. Without intending to, guided more by her impulses, she arouses jealousy and rivalry between two men: Rosendo (an expert gigolo who welcomes Sandra when she leaves prison) and Alberto (a man with a special magnetism to the opposite sex). Alberto is bound to Sandra from childhood ties of love and friendship. From the very beginning of the movie, the ensuing misfortune can be foreseen.

The film is a love story with all the typical elements that move the general public: tears, passion, suffering, desire, contradictions, disillusion and complete surrender to the beloved. It was not by chance that Daranas’ film won the popularity award at the last International Festival of New Latin American Cinema.

The movie parallels contemporary life in the San Isidro neighborhood of Old Havana, with Yarini’s story occurring in that same locale, only a century earlier. Although many will not agree, Laura shows that little has changed in the environment for some of the area’s residents. There are men who continue as pimps, and women who still work as prostitutes, subjected to the desires and will of men.

This was reaffirmed in interviews that Laura carried out to corroborate her thesis. The women -who speak of their hardship, work, and conflicts with their pimps- want to leave the men but are unable to. It is a vicious circle where they walk ceaselessly, always returning to the same place because, as one of the interviewees noted, “Somebody has to take care of the lunatics in the street.”

Despite the darkness of the surroundings, the murkiness of the human relationships reflected in the movie, and the lack of change in the mentalities of some people, the director is interested in conveying a message of hope. He aims to show that this slice of reality also has its beautiful side, since it is made up of vulnerable and sensitive human beings (with their virtues and defects).

The university professor decided not to return to her native province; instead, she remained in Havana despite the underworld that she now knows so well and with which she has developed a love-hate relationship (to the point of behaving worse than any of the area’s residents). For that reason, the story of Sandra’s and Alberto Yarini’s love, in addition to making us shiver, makes us reflect.

From the Cuban film “Broken Gods” by Ernesto Daranas

When Rosendo shoots Alberto, recalling the duel between Yarini and Luis Lotot (a French gigoló who challenged the Cuban over love for a woman), the story -bathed in suspense- changes its course to allow Sandra to squeeze the trigger and shoot Rosendo. A woman can make decisions; this is now the norm in the 21st century.

Prostitutes and pimps each speak in their own language without caring if we are able to understand them or not. That is not the intention of director Ernesto Daranas; he is only saying that they are here, that they love, suffer and are hurt by the same forces of life as we are, although in a different manner.

This is a story of love from the netherworld, recounted from the emotions of people who occupy this station of Cuban life, and whom -with a moralistic blindfold over our eyes- we try to disregard.

This is a story of love from the netherworld, recounted from the emotions of people who occupy this station of Cuban life, and whom -with a moralistic blindfold over our eyes- we try to disregard.



3 thoughts on “Pimps & Prostitutes: Truth or Fiction?

  • IRINA ECHARRY

    I liked your article very much. From Bible times until now there were women who slept with men without being married to them. I love all the stories of the women in the Old Testament, particularly the story of Ester. If you could read about them I think you will see how powerful these women were. I believe that the word “Prostitute” maybe a label that some men and women put on other women.

    Robert in Spokane, WA
    USA

    Reply
  • Whores and their pimps have been the perennial subject of film, (for example the 1969 French film Belle de Jour, starring Catherine DeNeuve. You have piqued my interest, Irina, and I hope to see this film when it comes out on DVD. During my fist trip to Cuba in 1959 I was often accosted by touts near my hotel, at Amistad y San Miguel in Centro, offering women for $3, what I now pay for a cafe au lait. (Besides perpetual war, perpetual inflation is another characteristic of empire.) On a recent trip, a handsome pimp, his two girls in tow, accosted me as I strolled the upper galleries of the Palacio de La Artesania. His price–not that I asked–must have been considerably more, but then again his girls were striking beauties, not street whores. Somehow, this pimp and his girls reminded me a dandy walking his two well-groomed Afgans. Yes, Civilizations and Revolutions may come and go, but there will always be “the oldest profession.”

    Reply
  • I wasn´t surprised about the film itself, This film is reminiscent of a Venezuelan sitcom, with a touch of cuban sophistication. I was surprised about Alberto Yarini´s story and how his aura still involves Cubans today. Some guy. He wasn´t interested in the moralities of Cuban Society at that time. He was a practical gentleman- pimp. His charm, his zoom observation of Cuban society , his advantaged upbringing did not deter him from being himself. His attitude to non sophisticated people, his apparent leadership, was indeed revolutionary, with no moralistic speeches attached, that´s why he is still a historical icon, a curtsy image of infatuation. No speech, attitude. He was the CEO of putas´s underworld in today´s words. He was smart,. he was a romantic.

    It is a very clever view of cuban life today.. Nothing much changes very much.

    Reply

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