‘Loving Pablo:’ A tragic love story fueled by drug money

Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem have been paired together onscreen for years. (Supplied)
Updated 26 June 2018
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‘Loving Pablo:’ A tragic love story fueled by drug money

CHENNAI: Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem have been paired together onscreen for years now — from 1992’s “Jamón Jamón” to Woody Allen's 2008 comedy-drama “Vicky Christina Barcelona” and most recently in Asghar Farhadi’s Cannes opening, “Everybody Knows” — and their chemistry has not subsided.

Set to hit UAE theaters on June 28 after it premiered at the 74th Venice Film Festival in September, director Fernando León de Aranoa’s “Loving Pablo” is all fire and fury as it follows the story of not just the drug racket in Colombia, but also the burning, passionate relationship between the country's cocaine lord, Pablo Escobar (Bardem), and his television journalist lover, Virginia Vallejo (Cruz). She finds herself attracted to him after an interview session and he plays the perfect gentlemanly lover, even as he floods the American market with cocaine. The film reveals the Jekyll and Hyde personas of Escobar — he teaches his young son never to touch the drug he has made millions peddling, but becomes ruthless when Vallejo grows desperate in her love and demands more from him.

Inspired by the book “Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar,” in which Vallejo details her intimate years with Escobar between 1983 and 1987, the film explores the seedy world of the drug baron.

It is somewhat of a biopic and traces his life from humble beginnings to his position as a Colombian kingpin, and eventually to his downfall. However, even while detailing the somber story of a tragically hopeless romance, the director managed to lighten the narrative with, among other devices, a scene where the pot-bellied Escobar runs stark naked through the jungles of South America, a rifle in hand and his bare bottom bouncing in the breeze.

Though the movie has been told from Vallejo's perspective, Escobar remains paramount to the plot.  Even so, what remains etched in the viewer’s memory is her life, which swings like a wild pendulum from pleasure to pain, from ecstasy to anguish.


The blind empowering the blind

Updated 3 min 10 sec ago
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The blind empowering the blind

  • Lebanese-American Sara Minkara refuses to consider her blindness an obstacle
  • Through Empowerment Through Integration she works to empower youth with disabilities

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts: “I like to push boundaries,” Sara Minkara told me in the offices of her non-profit, Empowerment Through Integration (ETI), right across the street from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. From here, she works to make the visually impaired and disabled feel included in society.

“I’ve hiked and sled down a volcano in Nicaragua and biked through the jungle in Bali,” she added.

Now, all this sounds like a standard travel itinerary for daredevilish adventure groups, but not in this case. 

Minkara, a Muslim Lebanese-American, lost her sight at the age of 7 due to macular degeneration. However, she doesn’t let that stop her from doing what she loves to do.

“My mom never allowed us to stay home and say ‘I cannot do this because I can’t see’ … Never, we were never allowed to say that,” she said, referring to herself and her older sister, who is also blind.

Minkara hopes that ETI can help others to break the social constructs that limit people with disabilities and can give them the confidence to realize their full potential.

“I think the biggest obstacle that surrounds our disabilities is the social construct around us,” Minkara said.

She continued: “When you eliminate that stigma, to be honest, then dealing with your disability itself is not that big a thing. Realizing that these youth have been ingrained with this mindset that there’s something wrong with you — and believing there really is something wrong with you — is really harmful and it prevents you from tapping into your potential.” 

Established in 2011 when Minkara was just a sophomore in college, ETI — through a grant from the Clinton Foundation — organized a summer camp in Tripoli, in northern Lebanon, that sought to empower young people with and without disabilities. The camp was such a hit among families and children that Minkara knew this couldn’t be the end of it.

“That camp was so empowering for the youth with and without disabilities, both for the families and the community. I realized that there’s more to this than just that one summer camp,” she said.

“I realized this is my passion, for me from a moral spectral lens, I think God gives us riziq (good fortune) and wealth in different ways, and I know that he gave me the wealth of support and empowerment. I felt it was my duty to share that wealth and that’s why I started ETI to be able to bring that empowerment to other kids with disabilities,” she said. “I never thought in a million years that I would be starting a non-profit — my strength is math, and I’m an introvert and graduated with a math and economics undergrad.”

Sara Minkara

Minkara was close to opting to do a PhD rather than expanding her organization. However, her thesis adviser pushed her to pursue her passion.

“He was, like, ‘Sara, why in the world are you applying to these PhD programs? Go pursue your passion. Your eyes sparkle when you talk about this camp. Go do that’,” Minkara said.

“If he hadn’t pushed me and encouraged me, I probably wouldn’t have started it,” she said. “It’s a risky thing.”

One of the workshops that Minkara runs through ETI is the In the Dark experience. Participants are blindfolded before entering the room and are told that they cannot say their names, nationalities, jobs and educational backgrounds, which are the four things “that we attach our value to,” Minkara said.

“So, they go in, they don’t know who they’re sitting next to, they cannot see each other, they don’t know anything. For two hours, without mentioning these four things, we guide them through an experience of getting to know themselves much more in each other and the connection, the bond, the trust they build is beautiful.

“If you meet a person for the first time without seeing them, the majority — 85 percent — of the labels cannot be formed, which means the majority of these assumptions cannot be created. So you’re really forced to get to know that person for who they are and listen to them for who they are.”

Minkara explained that the workshop allows participants to reflect on the way they usually meet people through socially constructed norms and “isms,” which goes back the non-profit’s mission to disrupt judgmental narratives.

The In the Dark experience can be tailored to suit the event based on the audience or setting, be it an office team-building workshop or an after-school program.

Other programs offered by ETI include Life Skills, which train blind and visually impaired youth to use key tools and techniques to navigate the world; Parent and Family Workshops which support families and friends of Life Skills participants; and Social Project Programs, which enable blind and sighted youth to work side-by-side on community service projects.

ETI’s human-centric approach places participants at the center of the workshops, where the program’s framework equips and trains them with tools that allow them to create effective solutions and empower them.

The non-profit operates in regions in where youth with disabilities, including refugees, are marginalized due to social stigma. It offers these groups the chance to build the competence and confidence needed to prosper and grow within their communities and act as agents of change.

“Our overarching mission is disrupting the narrative surrounding disability, moving from a charity-based perspective to a value-based perspective that’s not human rights-value based. Because right now people say, ‘Oh now I guess I have to educate,’ ‘I have to employ,’ ‘I have to integrate,’ ” she said. “We want to get to a point where (they say) ‘I want to’, ‘I see the value of integrating people with disabilities,’ and that narrative needs to be addressed to society at large, communities, families and individuals with disabilities.”