Moosa Lane: A lasting Pakistani family portrait on space, separation and longing
Shot over the course of 15 years, Anita Mathal Hopland’s debut documentary Moosa Lane is a deeply intimate journey of a child of several cultures and worlds.
The picture was world-premiered at Copenhagen’s CPH: DOX (23 March-3 April), one of the world’s largest gatherings celebrating non-fiction filmmaking.
Moosa Lane opens with the fascinating images of an embryo and Hopland’s voice-over stating that “some migrate, some stay, some travel, [whilst] new ones are born.”
"Space rather than being a curse, it becomes a way of being able to understand and translate two realities that exist very far apart from one another"
Right after, we discover that Hopland grew up in Denmark with her Pakistani father and Norwegian mother.
When she turned 25 in 2005, she decided to dig deep into her Asian roots through the lens of her camera.
During a number of stays with her family in Karachi, the director gets closer and closer to her own generation growing up in Pakistan.
Hopland’s voice-over will accompany her extensive family footage throughout the picture. Her thoughts help to contextualise the images we see but, more importantly, unpack the main themes of her reflection.
Growing up in a country and in a family circle where diversity was the norm, Hopland seems to be well aware of her own privileges. She examines her condition of being a so-called ‘third culture kid,’ but also begins questioning how the environment and the culture surrounding us may shape one’s identity.
In their house in the Karachi neighbourhood of Moosa Lane, 25 people live under the same roof. There, Hopland often witnesses a strong sense of community, which is hard to be seen in the Western world.
It is always challenging for a documentarian to observe such a large number of people and give each one of them the right dignity and significance.
Even though Hopland decides to put a spotlight on her family in Sydhavnen and three siblings in Moosa Lane, the work’s narrative structure, especially in the first two-thirds, is at times a bit too chaotic.
In detail, some cultural aspects as well as the unfolding of certain events may be difficult to grasp for the viewer who is unaware of the helmer’s biography and unfamiliar with the depicted cultural contexts. Many a time, this highly fragmented quality risks disengaging the spectators and affects its overall pacing.
That being said, when Hopland’s cinematic gaze zooms in on one specific subject, the viewing experience gains concreteness and becomes much more rewarding. Thus, we may be curious to find out the destiny of Saima, the oldest daughter in the family, who is 20 when we meet her on screen for the first time.
The woman becomes engaged in an arranged marriage with a man she will marry five years later. Interestingly, Saima will be the first family member to attend university.
Alishba’s portrait, the youngest family member and a two-year-old baby in 2005, is also endearing. While outside of her home ferocious gang wars are tearing the community apart, we see Alishba playing with her dolls and, while covering herself with burqas and niqabs, we can also see that she conceals dreams filled with desires of travels and adventures.
A very powerful, touching storyline involves Zayn, the most educated child in the family. We realise that his father has spent most of his earnings to ensure him a high-level study path.
While being in a privileged position in comparison with other family members, Zayn is good-hearted and aspires to travel the world. One of his biggest wishes is in fact to visit Hopland in Denmark. With a promising future ahead for himself and his family, however, Zayn’s destiny will take an unexpected turn.
At the Danish fest, Moosa Lane received a special mention. The jury described the documentary – and rightfully so – as “a feeling rather than just a place” as well as “a space that is neither there nor here” and said space, “rather than being a curse, it becomes a way of being able to understand and translate two realities that exist very far apart from one another.”
In particular, the film’s unique ‘sensorial’ and ‘spatial’ approach is both its most remarkable quality and its biggest flaw. It manages to deliver a more spiritual, humane experience when it digs deep into the subjects’ souls but it also creates a more distant, less empathetic dimension when it simply observes them in most ordinary settings, or indulges in a bit too abstract philosophical wanderings.
Finally, Norwegian musician Kristoffer Lo’s ‘ethereal’ instrumental score is a classy touch, as it fits in well with the peculiar atmosphere permeating this family portrait.
Davide Abbatescianni is an Italian Film Critic and Journalist based in Rome
Follow him on Twitter: @dabbatescianni