If you think the burqa is empowering, try wearing one for a week in August. Then try reporting your violent and sexually abusive husband to the local police, despite not speaking the local language. A translator ought to help, especially a woman, but reality will be tragically different for the battered wife in Hamy Ramezan & Rungano Nyoni’s short film Listen (trailer here), which screens as part of the Interferences programming block during the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival.
She cannot speak Danish and she cannot remove her burqa. She has fled her home, taking only her young son with her, hoping and expecting the Danish police will provide shelter. However, she never anticipated the interpreter would deliberately mistranslate her pleas. The translator is also a woman, but clearly she considers herself an Islamist first and foremost. She duplicitously tells the police the woman is seeking divorce advice, whereas she tries to convince the increasingly desperate woman to trust her imam to resolve her marital troubles.
It takes about five seconds to understand just how isolating and alienating the burqa truly is. Had her face been visible, her expressions and her bruises would have told the cops what the interpreter deliberately mistranslated. Listen is a relatively short thirteen minutes, but Ramezan & Nyoni still patiently take their time, showing the initial police interview from each party’s perspective, to fully establish the tragic significance of the situation.
Although we never see her, Zeinab Rahal’s body language still constitutes a harrowing performance. Just think how good she could be unshackled from the burqa. Likewise, Amira Helene Larsen discomfortingly projects the assurance of a blind believer. Nanna Bottcher also nicely hints at the police woman’s nagging suspicions, but Alexandre Willaume’s knuckle-dragging police man is film’s only real caricature.