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(Malos hábitos)

  Publicity Stills of
"Bad Habits"
(Courtesy from The Picturehouse)

In Spanish with English subtitles
Director: Simon Bross
Cast: Jimena Ayala, Elisa Vicedo, Elena de Haro, Marco Antonio Treviño, Aurora Cano, Milagros Vidal
RunTime: 1 hr 43 mins
Released By: The Picturehouse
Rating: M18 (Sexual Scenes)
Official Website: http://www.maloshabitos.com/

Opening Day: 31 July 2008


Matilde is a nun convinced that faith moves mountains. Secretly she begins a mystic fasting to end what she considers to be the second great flood. Elena is a thin and fashion-conscious woman ashamed of her daughter's chubbiness. She's willing to do the impossible to make her daughter Linda thin so Linda will look like a little princess on the day she receives her first communion. At the same time Elen's husband Gustavo, a professor of architecture - cannot cope any more with his wife's bones sticking into him during more intimate moments. For relief, he turns his attention to a buxom female student with a hearty appetite.

Movie Review:

The film starts off with a moody, eerie shot of what seems like a child dressed as a nun running towards a door, accompanied by loud thuds of footsteps resounding in water.

A horror movie? Not quite so.

The crux of the film’s central theme is more aptly foreshadowed in the next scene: A Mexican family gathers around for a hearty family dinner feast, generally exchanging genial and cordial banter. The upbeat mood swiftly changes when the head of the family, Ramon, suddenly chokes on his food. A child prays silently to God to save Ramon (significant plot teaser, but more later) whilst other members –Elena, Gustavo et al – rush to perform the Heimlich Maneuver in an attempt that rescues him.

Prelude: The act of choking, ironically during a family feast, ingeniously sets up the stage for the main message: the act and rejection of consumption.

Pretty soon, viewers are re-introduced to Matilde (Jimena Ayala), who has graduated from fervently religious child to fervently religious adult with a doctor’s degree. Upon completion of her studies, she immediately checks herself into a nunnery, and blinded by her faith, becomes a nun against Ramon’s wishes.

On hearing that her aunt is gravely ill, she takes upon herself to suffer (by consuming vinegar whole, and a copious amount of salt with her food) and pray to God in hope of her aunt’s recovery. When her aunt does miraculously recover, Matilde sees it as a reaffirmed testament of the strength of her faith, and the raw presence of God. In turn, her religious faith rapidly consumes her, and thereafter, escalates into her overzealous participation in a life-threatening fast, in which she believes is the test of her faith, and that true repentance will call upon God to cease the rain that is causing the deadly floods in Mexico.

Next, we have Linda (Elisa Vicedo), a pre-pubescent who is pressurized into losing her baby fat by her stylish, and alarmingly thin mother, Elena (Elena de Haro). Elena’s rejection of excess food consumption is juxtaposed by her daughter’s need to consume, resulting in the latter being forced to see a nutritionist, and later, visit a diet clinic. As the movie progresses, we gradually realize that Elena’s strict, and unreasonable behaviour towards Linda’s eating habits is not driven by parental concern, but is a manifestation of her own eating disorder.

Whilst Elena consumes herself with unrealistic ideals about weight, her marriage with Gustavo (Marco Treviño) crumbles. Finding no pleasure in having sex with his almost skeletal wife, he finds himself caught up in a fiery, sexually charged relationship with a voluptuous student in which his suppressed (sexual and eating) appetite reaches an absolute gratifying, and sensual level of consumption.

His first foray into feature film, director and co-scriptwriter Simón Bross creates a watch-able and interesting (given the unorthodox subject material), yet largely flawed movie. The three main narratives in the movie are just not cohesively connected to each other enough (yes, we know they are relatives, but so?), and this serves to downplay the depth of the message(s) he tries to bring across. It largely feels like watching three stand-alone stories compactly edited, and hence superficially covered, into one.

Given the impressive amount of material Bross has to cover in 98 minutes, the movie feels a tat detached and unpolished. As a result, we are not given enough time and reason to empathise with the main characters. Somehow, it feels as if they were given these flaws just for the sake of exploiting and achieving the movie’s theme.

Also, the particular narrative that sticks out like a sore thumb (and yet, takes up most of the screen time in the movie) is of Matilde, and how her faith consumes her into obsessing with her fast, in the belief that it will move God to save his lost sheep. The other two stories, in focusing on the very flawed nature of humans, relates smoother with viewers; how in the search for perfection, humans overlook others, even loved ones and at times, their intentions produce a n undesirable counter-effect.

One major complaint that I have is that Gustavo’s storyline is seemingly crammed into the movie as a mere infidelity encounter. As such, it would have been more enlightening if Bross gave more insight on Gustavo as a person and his relationship with his family. Or if he had just focused on Matilde’s story, cut out the rest and put them into his next movie. Or vice versa. i.e., non-consumption for religious purposes can’t really be placed on the same pedestal as say, non-consumption/consumption for self-gratification.

However, I must say, the depressing and hopeless atmosphere is without a doubt, spectacularly captured. From the lingering shots caught in dark, sedated colours, the sparsely placed, repetitive, and monotonous background music, the lack of dialogue to the constant presence of pounding rain, the mood of the movie relentlessly remind the viewers that Bad Habits isn’t A) a happy-go-lucky film, B) a movie to take lightly of.

Nevertheless, a noteworthy attempt (with a few well-placed twists) but ironically, by taking too much on his plate, Bross creates a movie that succeeds… well, just narrowly.

Movie Rating:

(Leaves a bittersweet taste, and the uneasy discontentment of being… not quite full)

Review by Casandra Wong


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