Paulina
directed by Vicky Funari

Plentyof people had it rough as children, but you'd have to look a long timeto find somebody who had it rougher than Paulina Cruz Suarez, subject of theriveting nonfiction feature Paulina.
In early adolescence, shegot up the nerve to leave Mauro, traveled to Mexico City and returned to thetown in her late teens with a new identity as a streetwise, sophisticated, promiscuousurbanite. She hoped her newfound cockiness would embarrass Mauro, unnerve thetownspeople who did nothing to stop her abuse and effectively change everyone'simage of her from child sex slave to strong-willed, tart-tongued adult seductress.Of course it didn't work out that way. For women in Mexico?anywhere,really?the sexual adventuress persona tends to backfire. Paula's hometown"audience" isn't impressed with her tight green dress and wigglywalk and her tales of sleeping with hundreds of men. Paula cultivates the imagehoping onlookers will think, "Wow, look at the independent-minded citywoman who doesn't care how people see her," but instead, they think,"After all these years, she's still damaged goods," or "Ialways knew that girl was a slut," or "I'd like to have sex withher." Directed by San Francisco-areafilmmaker Vicky Funari, who also cowrote, coproduced and helped edit the picture,Paulina retells its subject's story in an unusual, somewhat ungainlyway. There is present-day video footage of Paulina, a longtime domestic witha husband and grown daughter who works as a nurse, telling the story of heryouth and adolescence; there's also footage of Paulina returning home acouple of years ago to confront some of the people who made her life hell (andto visit the grave of Mauro, who died in the early 70s). It's fairly conventionalvideo stuff, boringly composed and unremarkably lit even when the filmmakeris trying to be arty. These flaws aren'tcrippling, since Paulina is such a good storyteller and her story is so engrossing,and because savvy moviegoers expect (and maybe even want) a certain plainnessfrom documentaries. The plainness signifies truth and restraint, and that'snot necessarily a bad thing: Better plainness than the cheeseball razzle-dazzleof tv newsmagazines like NBC's Dateline. Yet the movie isn'tcontent with soberly photographed talking heads; it intercuts the present-daystuff with dramatic recreations of Paulina's early life featuring actors.It's a self-consciously ambitious approach to the material, but it worksbetter than you might think. Except for a few stagy monologues and a coupleof faux-magical realist moments that don't quite work, the dramatic portionis a pleasure to watch, gracefully edited and tightly composed. (The camerawomanwas Marie-Christine Camus, and I wonder if she doesn't deserve some ofthe credit for how good the dramatic stuff looks.) The obvious difference invisual quality (and imaginativeness) between the documentary and dramatic partsdoes not seem entirely purposeful; it's as if the director could neverquite decide what sort of film she wanted to make. Or maybe the two halves ofthe movie, drama and documentary, engaged her in different, arguably incompatibleways?meaning the dramatic reenactments fired her emotions and imagination,but the present-day nonfiction scenes engaged her intellectually, as the recordof a woman's survival. Either way, Paulina sometimes feels liketwo different movies cut together, and though each is interesting in its ownway, the pieces don't quite fit. Despite these difficulties,it's a unique film, disturbing and affectionate and hard to pigeonhole.I'm not surprised that it had trouble finding a distributor, even afterreceiving favorable press at last year's Sundance film festival and becominga hit on the festival circuit. It's a personal film that feels as if itwas made because the filmmakers thought the story should be told?not becauseit could become a hit or a "calling card." Funari met her subjectmore than a quarter-century ago, when Paulina worked as a maid in the MexicoCity home of Funari's father, a U.S. diplomat who resigned his post over America's role in the Vietnam War and took a job with the Ford Foundationin Mexico. It couldn't have been easy for Funari to hop over the chasmof class, nationality and ethnicity and see the world through the eyes of afiftysomething Mexican woman, yet for the most part the film manages this featwithout much fuss. One of the highest compliments I can pay Paulina isto say that if I didn't know the director was a white American-born womanfrom an upper-middle-class household, I probably wouldn't have figuredit out after a single viewing. (According to press reports, in early cuts ofthe movie, Funari herself was a major character in the nonfiction scenes, butshe ultimately cut herself out because her presence was distracting from thestory. Apparently she understood what many snotnosed film school brats do not.Fiction or nonfiction or even autobiography, the story is ultimately about the story; it's not about you.) Except for an embarrassinglyjejune bit in one of the dramatic sequences?in which a teenage Paula bitesthe hand of a masher feeling her up on a bus, then is seen by other passengersas, respectively, a crazy woman, a masked wrestler, a prostitute and an Aztecpriestess?Funari avoids treating her subject's life as "raw material"with which to muck around. Unlike most white American filmmakers who make moviesabout people whose experience is foreign to them (in more ways than one), thedirector doesn't make Paulina's story into a sociological case studyor a jumping-off point for boneheaded "deconstruction" or textbookfeminist sloganeering. She just sees it as a story; she thinks about what itmeans, about how Paulina sees the world and how other people see her, and prettymuch leaves it at that. And for the most part, she doesn't indulge in directorialflourishes that might cheapen what Paulina has to say. The film was a laborof love, but it doesn't ask you to love it for that reason. It's astrong story, honestly told. Framed The empire strikesout. Star Wars fans got a bit of bad news last week: George Lucas andreleasing company 20th Century Fox have decided not to allow advanced ticketsales by phone for the first two weeks of The Phantom Menace. Where serviceslike MovieFone sell tickets up to a week in advance for some films, in thiscase, only same-day sales will be permitted. Fox said the decision wasmade in order to protect average moviegoers against scalpers, who might purchasehuge numbers of tickets by phone, then resell them to the same people who weredenied tickets due to the scalpers' treachery. Really, now. Does anybodybelieve this explanation, including Lucas? The filmmaker isn't protectingthe fans; he's (1) reassuring himself that there's no profit out therethat he isn't privy to and (2) ensuring 24-hour, round-the-block linesfor tickets, which will then be covered by tv newscasts and print outlets, generatingmore publicity and making The Phantom Menace into an even bigger eventthan it's already likely to be. It's naive and childish to gripe thatLucas is only in it for the money; of course he is, and it just so happens thathe financed the new film himself down to the last nickel, so he wants to makeas huge a profit off The Phantom Menace as he possibly can. But there's a linebetween protecting one's investment and being insensitive to your customers,and I think Lucas just crossed it. The no-advanced-phone-sales edict is a terribleidea?one that will unfairly penalize the same generation of moviegoersthat grew up on the Star Wars movies and made Lucas a multimillionaire.People who were in high school or younger when the first film came out are nowadults, and most of them have day jobs, even families; they can't affordto take a day off from work to stand in line to get tickets during the firstcouple of blockbuster weeks, nor is it reasonable to expect them to stay uplate to compete via phone for same-day tickets that go on sale at 12:01 a.m.Phone-sales technology has made moviegoers' lives a lot easier in the 22years since Star Wars came out, and now Lucas and Fox are taking awaythat convenience in the name of greed. There are ways to make lifehard for scalpers without screwing the fans. Remember that on most phone salesservices, like MovieFone, there's a limit on how many tickets can be chargedto a single credit card on a single day, usually four. Thanks to the wondersof computer software, that number could probably be reduced to three or twoif Lucas wanted to prevent scalpers from profiting off his imagination. Ticket resale agencies havebetter (and more profitable) things to do than resell movie tickets: The profitmargins usually aren't high enough to justify the time and effort necessaryto get them, and the fact that you can only buy a few at a time limits the opportunityfor skullduggery. The only people Lucas is thwarting are small-time scalpers,and they're not much of a threat to anybody?not the fans and not Lucas.He's alienating the same people he should be bending over backwards toaccommodate. To quote an old Jedi saying: Don't shit where you eat.