VL at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival: Gabi

Maegan and I decided that this film, one of the few featuring and created by Puerto Ricans, was one we could share our thoughts on for VL readers. We watched this separately but on the same day. Feel free to share some questions you have about the film and we’ll be happy to respond!

B. The synopsis of the film had me intrigued but wondering if I would be rolling my eyes the entire 15 minutes. It states:

A Puerto Rican saying haunts single women in their 30s: “If such a woman is not married by this time, she must be a slut, a lesbian, or a prude.” This is the story of that woman. Gabi Padilla lives a life of pleasure and independence. But after her mother’s unexpected death, she is forced to return to her rural hometown—a place where Gabi’s sensual flair is not welcome.

Check out the trailer:

M. When I saw the trailer and the tagline I was rolling my eyes and sucking my teeth too. I was like : why do we need another movie with a sassy and sexy Puerto Rican who is a virgin, a whore, or a lesbian (but not all).

B. So, basically, I’m Gabi Padilla, or rather I’m a part of this community of “sluts,” “lesbians,” and “prudes” (oh the labels!) as an unmarried 30-something Puerto Rican woman living a “life of pleasure and independence” and a proud Twitter Puta.

M. I guess I’m Gabi Padilla too and between seeing the trailer and the actual film I had to see who made the movie. Turns out it’s a Puerto Rican young woman so I watched hoping there would be some other message.

B. The ideas of pleasure and independence are built around the physical: Gabi is wearing what makes her feel attractive and what brings attention and is stereotypically feminine (i.e. low cut curve conscious dress with high heels and make-up). Her pleasure is sexual in nature, but we also witness the pleasure she experiences in being desired, popular, and well liked at her job (does she own the club or just works there?).
Her “independence” is connected to a very US definition: leave your family/hometown, build a life for yourself, get all the nice luxury items in your home, make a profit. Essentially it struck me that “independence” in the film is defined as the “American Dream™. I found this odd as someone who has very different and specific ideas of “independence” when I think of the island of Puerto Rico, historical preservation, self-determination and the communities of people living on the island. The definition and execution seemed to focus only on the individual and not the collective.

M. I think this is why I initially thought that the film was about Puerto Ricans but not by Puerto Ricans. Then I thought, well maybe the trailer was to market the film to a U.S. audience. Then i have to recognize that I’m a Puerto Rican woman approaching 35. Maybe younger Puerto Rican women have a different perspective.

B. And then all the things I don’t like about it I really actually enjoy about it. Here we have a Puerto Rican woman over 30 who is living life on her own terms. Who makes a decision and finds peace of mind, happiness and that, to me, is a form of independence and pleasure. If it were not for that last scene, which made the entire film for me, I would have had very different thoughts about this film.

M. Totally and there’s the contradiction that exists in the lives of so many Puerto Rican women. Sometimes in order to be independent – in terms of career and gender expectations we have to leave familial support networks. When Gabi returns to the bar (and home in that closing scene) we see she gets what she needs from her chosen family on her own terms.

B. Some tired stereotypes of women fighting over men and being jealous of one another, essentializing (or stereotyping?) how “sensual” and liberated women move through the world (i.e. sleep naked in bed no matter where they are, are hit on all the time no matter where they go, are always wearing lacy drawls, etc.).

M. I saw the scenes you mention as stereotypical too but I got a sort of guilty pleasure from some of them too based on the language used. The Rican coloquialisms resonated with me and made me laugh to myself. Like how many times can someone say coño? Also while some of the arguing between the sisters could be seen as stereotypical female cattiness, I read it as pent up resentment by the sisters who stayed behind. Sibling rivalry Rican style gets dramatic. Maybe I’m revealing too much about my family disfunction.

B. Gabi struck me as very accommodating with her family. Very much in tune with what was expected of her and also of what she needed to heal and grieve. She holds a child her sister gives her once she enters the home, she greets her grandmother and sisters cordially, does not question her sister’s request for help, does not lash out at her sister’s nastiness, and instead brings them gifts.

M. You know I saw this as Gabi playing this prodigal daughter role. she was absent for her mother’s death and was trying to atone for the “sin” of being a bad daughter/sister. That or she was trying to find her place in a place she doesn’t belong anymore.

B. What about the mourning process? Each person and woman in the film grieves differently. Who is to say who is greiving more than another? How do we find comfort in rituals, as her sisters did who made coffee, food, knew what was expected of them during a wake? How do we think of the lack of comfort Gabi was able to find as she was assigned to go looking for her mother’s lost dog as her sisters prepared food? Gabi’s crying while putting on make-up, her crying at the burial site, all for me, as a Puerto Rican woman who wears make-up on a regular basis, was a telling scene. Finding this comfort in the ritual of applying make up and allowing the make-up to shed/smudge because of tears and reapplying is a showing of strength to me (yes, her being “independent” in other ways is NOT a show of strength to me). Some may view this as her “mask” coming off or her not able to hide behind it, which lots of folks who do not like make-up argue. But make-up is more than that for many folks, especially those who identify with a femme identity, as I imagine Gabi does.

M. Yeah I wondered about this too, how Gabi was being punished by not being allowed to mourn properly. How she was excluded from the ritual of preparing the body, preparing the food for the mourners. She mourned/cried when she was alone – applying and reapplying makeup and at the grave.

B. We heard throughout that Gabi’s mother was wanting her to return home but we don’t know why she wanted that. Was it so that she could see her more often? Was it so that she could have her close by? Or do we think Gabi’s mother really wanted Gabi to sacrifice her happiness for that of her family (or are we given the impression of that by her sisters?).

M. I guess we’ll never know since no indication is given. Hell even Gabi’s grandmother doesn’t reproach her.

B. Of course we are also given the impression that her sisters are jealous of her because of the choices she has made and because of the choices they have made (were they really choices?). An altercation with her sister who lashes out at Gabi leads them to fighting over their mother’s dead body and Gabi makes a good point: tell my mother what kind of slutty daughter she raised.

M. I think the sisters are portrayed as resentful which kind of bothered me because at least one of them was a mother. Is mami’hood something to resent? Does it turn you into the anti-Gabi, not sexual. I was really struck by the line that Gabi’s sister spat at her when they were fighting – about things only entering her chocha – not coming out. Are motherhood and sexuality being played as opposites of each other?

Gabi,directed by Zoé Salicrup Junco, made it’s North American Premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. It is competing in the Student Short Competition and will be showing Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Let us know what you thought of the film.

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