Directed by Richard Douglas Jensen | Reviewed by Rich Monetti
I Am Mine Alone is a powerful 84 minute movie about ownership. An Afghani woman flees the Taliban after the US withdrawal and touches down in Alabama. Her situation certainly improving, Habibas’ (Zina Torab) relocation still finds a man’s world. So as the subtleties reveal, the Richard Douglas Jensen feature pleas for women’s autonomy and not just in places where equality, security and justice are at their worst.
The desert landscape of Afghanistan begins the journey, and the Middle Eastern sounding score signals a lonely futility. Enter the female lead, and despite the flight she is about to take, Torab’s glare still mirrors the audio and the cinematographic setup.
With a look to the sky that leaves her old world behind, the 35 year old tells us that a roll of the dice will have to do. But the scene shifting across the ocean, the green of Alabama is definitely a pasture upgrade.
So in rolls Hoot, who’s played by Jensen. An extension of his horse, his cowboy hat, boots and full denim get up looks like an ad for an aging gracefully on the contemporary frontier. We get closer and the potential downside for such rugged individualism quickly falls out of play.
He dotes over his dog, is content in his beautiful surroundings and his pensive approach to communication shows there’s nothing reactionary about this kindly 60 year old man.
Still, we can’t help feeling concerned when learning that Hoot is taking Habibas in as a refugee. The scenario conjures up ideas of abuse and exploitation and has the viewer questioning if the appropriate agencies would allow the cohabitation.
His friend Skeeter (Michael V. Jordan) raises the possibility beyond her official designation as a housekeeper/cook. “She might decide to fall in love with you,” Jordan muses.
Hoot is quick to deflect and Jensen is genuine in the assertion. “I’m not having a woman around the place. I’m taking in a refugee. I’m helping some in need.”
But cutting to Habibas, we feel her deep insecurity upon arrival at the airport and the uncertainty hangs heavy in the air. Jensen continues to accentuate ease, though.
They meet at the bus station, and Jensen’s Gary Cooper deferential politeness elevates the prospects for all humanity. A tinge of country bumpkin also allays the scenario. He doesn’t know what Salam Alaikum means, and fumbling her name, his harmlessness goes up numerous notches.
Of course, the doubt doesn’t go away and Torab reinforces by demonstrating the second hand citizenship she has long come used to. Her head bowed and fearful of making eye contact, the actual context comes into view. Flashing back to her life as a child bride, Habibas doesn’t know if one hell is being exchanged for another.
The abject fear of the first night does pass, and the manner in which Jensen assures decency draws us into the story deeper. The same goes as both characters go about bridging the gap between their cultures. In trying, failing and succeeding, Jensen and Torab ride the ups and downs into a pleasant onscreen chemistry.
On the other hand, the interjection of the town’s people sets the stage for something more meaningful. The noisy, judgmental neighbors shamelessly assume Habibas is a male order refugee/bride while the local church goers openly worry about Hoot’s soul. He’s taken in a Muslim women, so he must be saved before sent astray from the true savior.
The lot of them are pretty much a caricature and satisfy the stereotype of the southerner who is steeped in religious prejudice and severely lacking in sophistication. A more realistic presentation would be more subtle, but the over the top displays serve a purpose.
The portrayals allow Hoot to acknowledge his own misconceptions, and once out in the open, the cleared air forges a bond more akin to real life. More importantly, the overall dance they do reveals the uneven relations between American men and women for Habibas, and she arrives at a conclusion for the whole world. Are women really free anywhere? Well if pause is given, I Am Mine Alone is getting its message across.
Rich Monetti was born in the Bronx and grew up in Somers, New York. He went onto study Computer Science and Math at Plattsburgh State. But after about a decade in the field, he discovered that writing was his real passion. He’s been a freelancer since 2003 and is always looking for the next story. Rich also dabbles with screenwriting and stays active by playing softball and volleyball.