Set in present-day Gaza, Habibi is a modern retelling of a 7th-century romance, incorporating graffiti art to quote original love poetry by Majnun Layla.
Two love-struck students in the West Bank are forced to return home, to one of the most conservative areas of Gaza, where their love defies tradition. There, a woman’s parents play a major role in the choice of her husband, and Qays will have to request their daughter’s hand in marriage. But Layla lives in the town, and Qays, who belongs to a lower social class, in the refugee camp. Qays must provide Layla’s family with a dowry, a house for him and his bride to live in, and a wedding. Qays has only words at his disposal, and starts writing love graffiti to her all over the walls of their town. The love poetry causes scandal and Layla’s name is sullied. Her parents seek to marry her and rescue her reputation, Layla’s brother seeks to cast the poet out, and Layla takes action to find Qays.
»There is a body of poetry, dated back to the seventh century and attributed to the Qays Mulawwah (a.k.a. Majnun Layla) who originally and famously fell in love with Layla. In order to bring this story to screen, I incorporate graffiti art into the film, having Qays write the poetry rather than recite it. The poetry penetrates Layla and her family’s daily lives as they read it on the walls surrounding the town.« (Susan Youssef)
Born in 1981 in New York, Youssef is of Syrian-Lebanese descent. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts with Distinction from the University of Virginia and has a Master in Fine Arts from the University of Texas, where she was a Presidential Scholar, and is a Fulbright Fellow. Prior to filmmaking, she was a schoolteacher and journalist in Beirut. Habibi is her first feature.