December 9, 2013
MOVIE RELEASESThursday, August 22, 2013
Habi: awakening to cultural differences
Introspection alone does not suffice to help you find your true identity. More often than not, you also need to distance yourself from your own experience and explore the similarities and differences between your own heritage and the cultural mores and religious beliefs of others.
The new movie Habi, la extranjera (Habi, the Foreigner), which marks the directorial début of María Florencia Álvarez, is a fine example of intense soul searching and analysis. Habi... follows the self transformation of 20-year-old Analía (Martina Juncadella), who one day passes by an Islamic funeral parlour where a ceremony is being conducted and, following an unknown urge, steps in as though she were in mourning.
Disconcerted but irresistibly drawn to the funeral rite and chants, Analía blends in with the group and receives the belongings of a deceased woman.
Though somewhat befuddled, Analía, feeling that it wouldn’t be right to interrupt the proceedings, lets the mourners carry the ceremony to completion.
After leaving the service, Analía finishes the task she was supposed to carry out: delivering a package containing handicrafts. But neither the objects nor the purpose of her job answer a complex question: where was she really headed to, the postal delivery office or a place where she would question her own identity and beliefs?
Analía is an out-of-towner, though we never get to know where exactly she hails from. No explanation is given as to why she happens to work where she does and the reasons behind her state of existential numbness, which suddenly becomes an urgent need to know.
The Spartan approach chosen by writer-director María Florencia Álvarez gives a welcome dose of credibility to Analía’s wanton behaviour, underlining that, even in good narrative pieces, explanation sometimes backfires and becomes... overexplanation.
Actress Martina Juncadella (seen last year in the award-winning though little known and scarcely seen Abrir puertas y ventanas) possesses the physique du rôle and the right combination of serenity and restlessness to make a believable Analía, or Habi (short for ‘Habiba Rafat’), since this is the name Analía randomly chooses to pass herself off as a displaced Islamic woman in a spiritual quest.
Wearing a veil and observing (imitating, at first) what she believes to be the kind of behaviour expected from a Muslim woman, Analía finds modest but appropriate lodging and makes a new friend, Yasmin (Lucía Alfonsín), a sensitive, sympathetic soul.
From a formal standpoint, Habi, la extranjera, may at first seem rigidly structured, but it is this same rigour that allows director Álvarez to draw an accurate picture of Habi’s slow transformation into an adult woman who freely chooses her religious convictions, way of life, and even the kind of amorous relationship she desires.
Love, indeed, comes Habi’s way, and it’s a beautiful, tender relationship she develops with the equally easy-going Hassan (Martín Slipak). What brings Analía and Hassan closer together, at first, is Hassan’s belief that Habi is a long-lost sister of his, but once it becomes clear that this is not the case, they share the need to fill a sentimental void. The metaphor is clear but hardly obtrusive or too evident, because their amorous liaison moves gradually from attraction and curiosity to loving care. Habi and Hassan, serenely beautiful and full of hope as portrayed by Juncadella and Slipak, make up for their lack of experience with their enormous, unrestrained capacity to give. In this sense, Habi, la extranjera, underlines the need for mutual understanding, and the way it is told, the movie never tries to hammer the message home. Eventually this becomes one of the film’s biggest assets — the smooth, tranquil approach to cultural differences that divide society for no valid reasons.
Aided by Julián Apezteguía’s gorgeous cinematography and Santiago Pedroncini’s haunting music, Habi, la extranjera, while not grippingly intense (it doesn’t have to be), is rather a delicate, soothing study in the very human yearning for understanding and acceptance, and a more than dignified début for director María Florencia Álvarez. Perhaps equally important, the movie is a valid tool to combat cultural bias and misrepresentation of the concept of otherness.
Habi, la extranjera (Habi, the Foreigner). Argentina / Brazil, 2012. Written and directed by: María Florencia Álvarez. Cinematography: Julián Azpeteguía. Music: Santiago Pedroncini. Editing: Eliane Katz. Produced by: Lita Stantic Producciones, K&S Films, Videofilms and Ancine, with the support of Ibermedia and INCAA. Running time: 92 minutes.