Comparing This and That : Juan Echanove, Mr B., and Stalin

Your jailer’s name is : JUAN ECHANOVE

Your jailer’s name is : MR B.



Your jailer’s name is : JOSEF STALIN


Being held a prisoner can’t be much fun. The same can be said about holding someone else a prisoner, however. Being lumbered with a prisoner is a nasty burden most of us will never have to bear, but let’s spare a few minutes of our time to look at three different cases of prisoners and prison keepers.


I’d like to compare the film Una casa en las afueras, the novel Pamela and the early days of the Soviet Union. You will see in my essay that there are entertaining parallels that justify my choice.


Una casa en las afueras was directed by Pedro Costa in 1995. Largely forgotten these days, it stars Juan Echanove and Emma Suárez, both pretty major figures in the world of Spanish cinema, it has to be said. A spoiler-free synopsis of the film would read something like this: Blanca warns Yolanda of Daniel’s obsessive nature and violent behavior, but it is too late. Trapped in a strange house in the middle of nowhere, Yolanda sees even her daughter turn away from her.


Daniel is complex and devious. Echanove is convincing when he’s charming and when he’s brutal. Unfortunately, the part of Yolanda is flimsy and the dialogues are weak so it doesn’t matter how well Emma Suárez performs, she isn’t going to make much of this character.


Samuel Richardson wrote Pamela in 1740. It is considered the first bestseller in world literature, apparently. (I can’t see many people devouring it these days… it’s long and weary and repetitive and moralistic…. I mean, I love it, but that’s just me.) The eponymous heroine is held captive by the wicked Mr B. until she falls in love with him. (500 pages just to say that?)


The Soviet Union was founded in 1922 and had a rocky start. Uncle Joe Stalin was boss of the place for thirty years and he had an awful lot of prisoners, because it was such a huge country, you see.


Yolanda starts out in love with Daniel, who curbs her freedom, so she turns against him, so he polishes her off. Pamela respects Mr B. at first, then shuns him when starts accosting her and locking her up, then realizes how wrong she was and how gorgeous he is. Some of the citizens of the USSR loved Stalin, there’s no doubt about it, but most people’s lives picked up when the man finally died (apart from the thousands that he’d executed, that is.)


What they all have in common, these guys, is that they all say, “I’m doing this for your own good”. Daniel KNOWS that Yolanda is better off staying at home, not working, not having a car, not having any contact with her family. Mr B. is sure that he will break Pamela in the end; her imprisonment is essential for her learning. Stalin couldn’t help breaking a few eggs if he was going to make that omelette.


That’s what they say, but is it true? Richardson portrays Mr B. in a way which would be disturbing today (even in these “Shades of Grey” days…. Sigh…) – it seems OK for him to molest Pamela, to trap her in his mansion, to rob her, basically to do as he pleases with her. And we, the reader, are supposed to smile and say, “Silly girl, can’t you see he adores you?”


Emma Suárez doesn’t get the chance to see whether Juan Echanove is being sincere or not, as he shoots her when she cottons on to his mental condition. But he works on her daughter, brainwashing her in the Mr B. style, explaining that “Mummy’s gone away” until she sort of believes it, until she rebels and he’s “forced” to tie her up and gag her, in the best KGB fashion.


So Mr B. is absolved; he keeps Pamela a prisoner for her own good.


Daniel, not so much.


In the case of Stalin, I will leave history to decide.


If I were a jailer, who would I like to have in my prison cell? Not Pamela, for crying out loud. Her non-stop sanctimonious lamentations and then her unctuous raptures would be too much for me. I wouldn’t much care to be the Head of State of a Dictatorship of the Proletariat, either; I can already feel my migraine coming on…


However, if Emma Suárez were my prisoner I would feel really bad about having to deprive her of her freedom but she’s such a lovely person I know she would understand that I’m just doing my job and she wouldn’t mind, I mean, there are a lot worse things that could happen.


This hurts me more than it hurts you, you see.

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