JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

Talento de barrio’s poster uses its star, Daddy Yankee, as the major selling point.

Images from Broche de Oro

Scenic views like this shot of the Cayey mountain range adorn Broche de oro.

The beautiful beach of Loíza serves as the primary setting of Broche de oro.

Comedic scenes like this one were Anselmo (second from the right) is having trouble urinating comically showcase the problems of old age.

At the surfing competition beautiful bodies abound.

Carlos (L) fights with his father because he thinks his father is controlling him by forcefully moving his family to Florida.

Rafael at the beautiful nursing home where he is being held “captive.”

The prison-break style removal of the men from their nursing home.

Thanks to the road trip, and the men’s encounter with women, we learn that they have many talents, including Anselmo’s (C) great dance moves.

Thanks to the trip to the surfing competition cross-generational relationships flourish.

The land of the Medina family serves as a metaphor for family unity.

Broche de oro’s poster highlights setting over stars.

 

Nonetheless, it would be misleading to suggest that local cultural institutions have not supported other projects that have depicted the island in a somewhat negative light. For example elite social circles generally praise literature and music that criticizes the government and the general social structure of the island. Thus, René Marques’ play La carreta (1953), which depicts a family living in a San Juan slum, is considered a “classic” of Puerto Rican literature; Eduardo Rodríguez Juliá’s El entierro de Cortijo (1983), which discusses Cortijo’s (a popular musician) impoverished background, became a local bestseller; and rock group “Fiel a la vega” achieved local success in the 90s with their heavily political songs. In the case of film, the plot of Jacobo Morales’ Ángel (2007), for example, makes clear reference to a less than pristine past of political and police persecution and corruption (particularly towards leftist groups).

However, in the case of Morales, he is an established filmmaker and actor, having directed seven films and starred in more than twenty. More specifically, Morales appeared in acclaimed U.S. director Woody Allen’s Bananas (1971), as crazy rebel leader Esposito, and he directed the only Puerto Rican movie to ever be nominated for an Academy Award (for best foreign language film), Lo que le pasó a Santiago (What Happened to Santiago, 1989). Even so, while Morales himself has been critical of the Puerto Rican government, he has never tackled the issues of poverty, unequal wealth distribution, and crime, and all his films have a middle-class perspective. Without faulting Morales, an exceptionally skilled filmmaker, for his filmmaking decisions, one can point to these reasons for his films having had institutional acceptance and celebration, even if they were not as financially successful as Talento de barrio.

Another explanation for the limited praise that Talento de barrio received lies in the popular negative perception of reggaetón. Unlike other local music genres like salsa, plena or bolero, which are praised by critics for their cultural value, reaggaetón does not often receive the same assessment.[31] [open endnotes in new window] As an urban music genre associated with lower income communities, and often linked to misogynistic, sexualized and violent language, reggaetón is not commonly perceived as promoting an image of a “civilized” and “educated” society. Reggaetón as a music genre encounters in Puerto Rico many of the prejudices that Rap evokes in the United States. Just as rap has been “reviewed as a corrosive influence on young and impressionable listeners,” reggaetón has been “attacked as immoral, as well as artistically deficient.”[32] Therefore, one might anticipate, even before the first screening, that a film that not only had as its subject a reggaetón artist, but that also starred one, would not be embraced as a great artistic achievement. From the outset, because of its topic and star, Talento de barrio could never attain recognition as “high art,” a product that reflected on the sophistication and refinement of the great Puerto Rican nation.

While we could claim that the institutional neglect of the film is due to what might be perceived as its lack of “artistic” value, the government’s focus on film, as stated in the Law for Economic Incentives for the Puerto Rican Film Industry, is on its business/economic potential, not on “high art.” Despite its limitations, the movie was distributed all over Latin America (in places like the Dominican Republic, Colombia, México, Panamá, Uruguay, and Colombia) and in major urban markets of the United States. As a result, the film certainly had the opportunity to showcase Puerto Rico in potential tourist markets.[33] However, as I have argued, Talento de barrio is not a tourist-friendly film, at least not in a conventional sense.

As the Brazilian film Cidade de Deus (City of God, 2002) demonstrated, a film centered on crime in the city “slums” could actually create interest in visiting those areas. In fact, a quick Google search reveals numerous options for popular “favela tours” in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.[34] Like the Swiss tourist in Detroit documentary Detropia (2012) startlingly expresses, some prosperous people are interested in contemplating and (safely) experiencing “decadence.” Indeed, Daddy Yankee himself expressed in an interview that his desire to make Talento de barrio developed precisely after he saw City of God.[35] The singer declared that after seeing the Brazilian film he felt inspired to tell a realistic story about the challenges of those with similar backgrounds to his.[36] Again suggesting that he saw his project as representing on screen the “real” Puerto Rico.

However, the Puerto Rican government’s tourism campaign does not (and does not wish to) center on the island as a decadent, crime-ridden location. Instead, the tourism campaigns promote the island as a place of natural beauty, inviting foreigners to “come to discover a world full of natural wonders, sparkling beaches and endless adventure.”[37] In addition, since Pedro Rosselló’s terms as governor during the 1990s, the tourism slogan for the island has been “Puerto Rico does it better,” and while the slogan is open ended (what is it?), the pronoun most certainly does not refer to crime. Thus, while Talento de barrio might have sparked interest in the island, it was not the kind of interest that government agencies like the Tourism Company or the Film Commission envisioned.

Of beaches, sex and comedy—
Broche de Oro and the buddy film

Raúl Marchand Sánchez’s Broche de oro, on the other hand, is certainly more in line with the tourist-friendly ideas of these government agencies. Apart from social commentary regarding familial and institutional neglect of the elderly, the film presents Puerto Rico as a wonderful travel destination. It would be false for me to suggest that the film was made as propaganda, but because of its genre and the settings it presents, Broche de oro could easily be appropriated for those aims. At core, however, the film is about male relationships, in the loose international genre of “buddy films.” These male relationships include cross-generational relations, grandson-son-father, as well as contemporaneous relations.

The incident that propels the film’s plot forward is the unilateral decision of Alberto Medina (played by Carlos Esteban Fonseca) to move his family from Puerto Rico to Orlando, Florida. Carlos (played by Luis Omar O'Farrill), Alberto’s son, does not like the idea because he loves his grandfather, Rafael “Yele” (Jacobo Morales), who would be left behind, and he loves surfing, something he cannot do in landlocked Orlando. As a way to defy his father and spend time with his beloved Yele, Carlos steals his father’s car and enacts a prison-break style removal of his grandfather and two of his friends from their nursing home. The four men, Carlos, Rafael, Pablo (Diego de la Texera) and Anselmo (Adrian García), then go on a road-trip to sign Carlos up for a surfing competition in Loíza. While most of the characters have a female love interest that enter the story as the men travel, the film focuses mostly on the relationships among the men.

Film scholars have described the “buddy film” as containing three distinctive elements: a journey, the marginalization of women, and the absence of a home.[38] Despite its unusual approach to the genre, focusing mostly on elderly men, Broche de oro contains all these elements that Wood describes. As I have already mentioned, the film uses the context of the journey to a surfing competition as an excuse to have the men bond. Further, the reason for the journey is that all these men feel out of place in the world and that their home and way of life is threatened, creating anxiety about the future. The three older men live in a restrictive nursing home where their personalities are thwarted and their movement is restricted, making them yearn for a different life. In addition Rafael and Carlos see their family as threatened by the physical and emotional separation of the move to Orlando. Finally, the women present in the film serve only as a means through which the men display the growth and change they have incurred while on this journey of self-discovery. Thus, thanks to Margarita (Carmen Nydia Velásquez), we learn that Anselmo, apart from being a hypochondriac, is a great dancer; thanks to Coco Galore (Sara Pastor) we learn that Pablo was a successful porn-star and a great lover; and thanks to Sofía (María Coral Otero Soto), Carlos learns to stand up for himself and embrace his independence.

In the only negative criticism I have found of Broche de oro, critic H.J. Leonard, writing in the University of Puerto Rico magazine Diálogo, condemns what he calls “the vulgar turn” (meaning sexual openness) the film takes to stimulate laughter.[39] Certainly the film should get no “pass” from criticism, yet the genre conventions of the “buddy film” explains some of the film’s depictions of (hyper)-sexuality, particularly that among the older men. The problems is not that the men are sexual, or that sexuality is portrayed crassly, but rather that sexuality is fiercely imagined as heterosexual. That is, in the context of the homosocial genre, the men’s demonstrated interest in women diffuses the closeness among the male characters sufficiently to avoid giving the impression of a homoerotic involvement. David Greven explains,

“The buddy film inherits and mobilizes the tensions inherent in a homosocialized and homosocializing society that depends on bonds between members of the same sex but also rigorously polices against any erotic dimension to those bonds.”[40]

Thus, I would argue that the vulgarity (or not) of the sexual behavior in the film is not itself problematic, but rather becomes questionable when we analyze it in terms of the social prescriptions for sexual behavior that it espouses.

In scenes like Coco’s and Pablo’s sexual encounter, we do not see sex as a human encounter of love or pleasure but instead as a prize to be won. In this scene while Coco and Pablo have extremely loud sex, we see two young male fans of Pablo’s pornography career high-fiving each other for their idol’s “accomplishment,” suggesting that the sexual encounter is some sort of communal male achievement, a race that has been won by men. What “vulgar” scenes like this one showcase is that Broche de oro is extremely heteronormative, constantly reminding us of its position by crassly indicating that even in old age heterosexual sex is what gives men a reason to live.

Apart from the conventions of the “buddy film” that it adopts, and despite its bittersweet ending (with family unity caused by Rafael’s health crisis and eventual death) Broche de oro is also a coming-of-age story, marking the move from dependent childhood to independent manhood for Carlos. While we could say that Talento de barrio is also a coming-of-age story, the process of Carlos discovering himself stands in marked contrast with that of Edgar. Carlos’ decisions are not options between life and death, his conundrum is much simpler: to separate from his father through surfing, or to remain under Alberto’s shadow, having his life dictated to him. Carlos chooses surfing, and hence independence, but in the end he also goes to Florida, which means that his rebellion was a contained one that did not really disrupt the social order. That is to say, his coming of age poses no challenge to an outdated family ideal, for while Carlos claims his independence, he also learns to respect his father and his decisions.

We could thus conclude that Broche de oro is not revolutionary in any social way, but rather reaffirms traditional social values of masculinity and the family structure. Since Carlos’ mother is completely absent from the story (and the screen), social and family values are couched in strictly patriarchal terms. In the end, Broche de oro is very palatable for Puerto Rican institutions because it does not question structural problems in Puerto Rican society. In addition, the film shows beautiful settings: sunny beaches, green countryside, and colorful urban spaces. Broche de oro is without a doubt a feel-good-movie about affable people and a picturesque and scenic country and even a loving ode to Puerto Rico that offers a nostalgic and apologetic view of the harsh economic conditions that are propelling many Puerto Ricans to migrate to the United States.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that groups like the Puerto Rican Association of Cinematographic and Audiovisual Producers have described the film as a production that “fills us with pride and hope because it captures on the screen a national identity cinema.”[41] What for these groups counts as national identity cinema is a cinema that depicts Puerto Rico as an idyllic place. Therefore, we find no space for the criticism of systemic problems in the local discourse of cinema’s nation-building role. Film critics preoccupation with films’ positive/negative portrayals of Puerto Rico in prospective markets have lead them to focus on touristic depiction more than on social issues, as evidenced by the detail that neither Broche de oro nor Talento de barrio were criticized for their sexist stances.

By contrast, cultural critics do often condemn other cultural productions for their treatment of social problems like sexism and homophobia. Activists like Pedro Julio Serrano have criticized (and even manage to cancel in 2013) television shows like SuperXclusivo for their hateful rhetoric against women and the LGBT community. More systemically, in 2009, feminist groups and senator Sila María González who supported Senatorial Project 2522 (implementing “gender perspective” on the Department of Education’s curriculum), engaged in a fierce debate over the project with then Secretary of Education Carlos Chardón and religious groups who thought gender perspective an affront to traditional family values. What I suggest is that social issues are discussed in the media and even among governmental institutions with some regularity, however, these discussion rarely transfer to local film productions. That is, critics rarely condemn local films for their social messages.

Audiences, socioeconomic background and success — for a new model of filmmaking in Puerto Rico

The Puerto Rican box-office success of both Broche de oro and Talento de barrio allows us to discern two distinct types of audiences that currently frequent movie theaters in the island. On the one hand, we have a very vocal and influential elite audience that will defend and promote actively in the press what they deem as “patriotic” representations on the screen. These are the audiences that kept Broche de oro playing for months in the elite Fine Arts Cinema.[42] These are also the audiences that celebrate the inclusion of the film inside the film festival circuit, praising its appearance in the Chicago Latino Film Festival and the Beijing International Film Festival.[43] On the other hand, we have a somewhat marginalized and non-vocal, and yet, numerically larger audience attracted by a reggaetón artist and the representation of the plight of the economically oppressed. Of course these two types of audiences can coincide, as I myself saw both films when they came out in theaters, and appreciated them, albeit for very different reasons.

However, more than any real knowledge about the preferences of Puerto Rican film audiences, what we can learn from the newspaper coverage of these two films is that Puerto Rican cultural institutions do not necessarily reflect the values of the people they seek to represent. While to this day (2013) Talento de barrio continues to be the bestselling Puerto Rican film in Puerto Rico, it has not been openly accepted as a film worthy of representing Puerto Rico in an international context (although it has traveled the world through theater and DVD exhibition). That close to a million people came out to see the film during its four month run in Puerto Rican theaters and that the film was quickly picked up by Univisión (a local channel in Puerto Rico) to broadcast during the holiday season should serve as a sign that Puerto Ricans strongly identify (at least in some way) with this film.[44] It seems, however, that for cultural institutions to recognize the value of a Puerto Rican film, the film must represent the island in a positive light.

That the artistic model for filmmaking, valuing primarily educational, patriotic, and touristic images, has remained virtually unchanged for almost one hundred years, notwithstanding its extremely limited success over that century, should motivate us, at the very least, to reopen the dialogue regarding the purposes of filmmaking in Puerto Rico. Institutional prejudices regarding who gets to make films and for what purpose limit the capacity of Puerto Rican films to succeed even at the local level. That the hegemonic national discourse has appropriated and promoted middle-class values as representative of true Puerto Rican identity has also made it difficult for alternative voices to be heard through filmmaking. Yet Talento de barrio did get made and widely circulated and taken up in the national discourse, even if not by those who frequently dominate the public sphere in Puerto Rico. Appropriately, the last lines of that film, a poem recited by Daddy Yankee, can, I believe, stand as an allegorical representation at once of the history and the future of cinema in Puerto Rico:

“Human beings make mistakes
It does not matter how much you shine in the future
We always carry a dark past
You can take the man out of the street
But you cannot take the street out of the man
Now it is my turn to close my eyes
And weigh everything on a scale
Should I come back and seek revenge
Or should I move forward.”[45]

Are Puerto Ricans ready to embrace a new more unguarded model of filmmaking, or will we continue to make the same choices that have limited the local film industry in the past? Can Puerto Ricans embrace a cinema that not only shows them their positive qualities but that exposes their negative traits as well?

If we, Puerto Ricans, want the island’s film industry to grow and prosper we need to accept the legitimacy of all genres, genders, sexuality and class perspectives. The cultural ambassador/tourist-friendly model of filmmaking is not only outdated but also extremely limited, thwarting growth, both economically and, more importantly, socially. Governmental support for diverse local productions, regardless of their stance towards contemporary Puerto Rican society, allows critics to focus less on a film’s ability to bring business to the island, and concentrate more on opening spaces for social introspection.


Appendix:
Timeline of select important events in
Puerto Rican cinema history

1897- First known film exhibitions conducted by Luis Pío in San Juan.

1912- Rafael Colorado makes the first known film produced in Puerto Rico, titled Un drama en Puerto Rico.

1916- Film production company Cine Puerto Rico, headed by Colorado, is incorporated for the production of Por la hembra y por el gallo.

1916-1917- Appearance of the Tropical Film Company, composed of intellectuals Luis Lloréns Torres and Nemesio Canales, as well as Colorado and other financial backers.

1919- With the assistance of American F. Eugene Farnsworth the Porto Rico Photoplay is created and a film studio is built in Puerto Rico.

1921- After the success of the Porto Rico Photoplay film Tropical Love, Pathé leases the Puerto Rican film studio and produces The Woman Who Fooled Herself (1922) and Tents of Allah (1923)

1922- Juan Viguié Cajas founds Viguié News, which is commissioned by entities such as the Puerto Rican government, the Rockefeller Foundation, and Fox News to make educational films and newsreels.

1923- Famous Players-Lasky and Paramount Piuctures shoot in Puerto Rico Aloma of the South Seas, starring Gilda Grey.

1934- Juan Viguié Cajas makes Romance Tropical, the first Puerto Rican sound production. Latin Artists Pictures distributed the film in the U.S.

1938-39- Puerto Rican Rafael Ramos Cobian produces Mis dos amores and Los hijos mandan which are distributed in the U.S. by Paramount and Twentieth Century-Fox, respectively.

1948- The Puerto Rican government creates the División de Educación a la Comunidad, better known as DIVEDCO, which produces with public funds cultural and educational materials including films such as Los peloteros (1951) and Modesta (1955).

1951- Viguié Film Production becomes the largest production company in Puerto Rico.

1953- Dominican filmmaker Rolando Barreras begins his career with Escombros shot in New York. Barreras will later become an important filmmaker and proponent of a national Puerto Rican cinema industry.

1958- Birth of Probo (Producciones Boricua) Films with the production of Maruja.

1963-1968- Spanish filmmaker Juan Orol coproduces 8 films in Puerto Rico.

1966- Argentine director Orestes Trucco completes Correa Cotto: así me llaman, which sparks the production of other local cop dramas (some with the same character).         

1971- Jacobo Morales alongside Victor Cuchí makes his first film Cinco cuentos en blanco y negro.

1974- The passing of the Law 27 of August 22, 1974 creates the Puerto Rican Institute of Cinematographic and Television Art and Industry.

1979- Efraín López Neris produces Isabel la negra distributed in Latin America by Columbia Pictures.

1982- Sono Films produces Una aventura llamada Menudo about the popular Puerto Rican singing group.

1982- Ana María García produces her well-known documentary La operación about female sterilization in Puerto Rico.

1986- Marcos Zurinaga directs and produces La gran fiesta shown world wide through the film festival circuit.

1989- Jacobo Morales directs and produces Lo que le pasó a Santiago, the first Puerto Rican film to be nominated for an Oscar on the best foreign language film category.

1989- DIVEDCO is disbanded.

1992- Poli Marichal is awarded the Media Arts Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship to produce the documentary Son Afrocaribeño-Puerto Rico: bomba y plena.

1992- Creation of the government sponsored Corporación Cine Puerto Rico (also known as the Puerto Rican Film Commission)

1993- Luis Molina produces La guagua aérea one of the costliest film in Puerto Rican history with a budget of $1.2 million.

1994- Frances Negrón Muntaner releases Brincando el Charco: Portrait of a Puerto Rican about the social prejudices and problems encountered by Puerto Rican migratory communities in the U.S.

1995- Manhattan Merengue initiates a period of productions aimed at a Hispanic market in the United States.

2000- Noel Quiñones directs Flight of Fancy a Hollywood style film with relative success in the U.S.

2006- The Vallés brothers produce Casi, Casi picked up for DVD distribution by HBO Studios.

2008- Release of Talento de Barrio, the best-selling Puerto Rican film in Puerto Rico to date.

2011- Creation of the Law for Economic Incentives for the Puerto Rican Film Industry for the purpose of attracting foreign capital.

2012-13- Broche de Oro breaks the Puerto Rican record for most consecutive weeks in theaters. 

Sources for timeline

Rose Marie Bernier, “Las rutas del cine en el Viejo San Juan: memoria y planificación,” (master’s thesis, University of Puerto Rico, 2011).

Kino García, Historia del cine puertorriqueño (1900-1999): Un siglo de cine en Puerto Rico, (San Juan: Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, 2000).

José Orraca-Brandenberger, La ley, el cine y la realidad, (San Juan: Editorial LEA, 2005).

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