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Film / La Habanera

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La Habanera is a film made in Nazi Germany in 1937, starring Zarah Leander and Ferdinand Marian. It was the last film directed in Germany by a talented young filmmaker named Detlef Sierck. Sierck, who was anti-Nazi and married to a Jewish actress, left Germany shortly after the film was completed. He eventually arrived in the United States, anglicized his name to Douglas Sirk, and enjoyed a very successful career as a Hollywood film director.

Two Swedes, young Astrée (Leander) and her aunt Anna, are visiting Puerto Rico on vacation. Astrée is taken by the beauty of the island and its exotic culture, and she is infatuated with their host, wealthy landowner Don Pedro de Avila (Marian). She boards the ship to go back to Europe but, enchanted by the music of a young Romani singer on the waterfront, she impulsively rushes off the boat and into the arms of Don Pedro.

Ten years pass. Astrée's marriage to Don Pedro has curdled into mutual resentment, with Don Pedro being manaically jealous and Astrée desperately missing her home in Sweden. Her only happiness is her nine-year-old son Juan. Meanwhile, the island has been hit with another outbreak of "Puerto Rico fever", an extremely deadly contagious disease. Don Pedro and the American authorities in Puerto Rico launch a cover-up denying the very existence of Puerto Rico fever, in an attempt to avoid damaging the island's tourism based economy. While this is going on two doctors, Dr. Sven Nagel and Dr. Gomez, arrive on the island in order to investigate Puerto Rico fever. Dr. Nagel just happens to be Swedish, and an old flame of Astrée.


  • As You Know: "Especially not you, the charming founder of our tropics institute."
  • Bookends: On the ship to return to Sweden at the end of the movie, Astrée sees the same Romani singer singing the same "habanera" song.
  • Government Conspiracy: The American "prefect" conspires with Don Pedro to cover up the outbreak of fever in order to avoid damaging business.
  • Grande Dame: Astrée's rich, ultra-snobby Aunt Anna, who dislikes Puerto Rican culture. When Astrée gets married Aunt Anna sends a telegram promising to pay for the divorce.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Don Pedro has issues with jealousy. After an English officer looks at Astrée while she's wearing a flattering dress, Don Pedro rips the dress apart.
  • High-Class Glass: Snobby Aunt Anna has a variant of this, namely, a pair of glasses that she wears on a string around her neck and makes a point of holding to her eyes whenever she wants to be snobby about something.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Don Pedro, who has worked to cover up the outbreak of fever on the island, falls ill of the fever. Dr. Nagel has an antitoxin that could save his life, but Don Pedro's goons busted up his lab and destroyed his antitoxin. So Don Pedro dies.
  • Hollywood Genetics: The dark-haired Astrée and the even darker, positively swarthy Don Pedro have a fair, blond Aryan son.
  • Home Sweet Home: The film's moral, as a homesick Astrée finally goes back to Sweden. While the Nazis occasionally made strident propaganda films, most of German cinema of the era was more escapist fare, usually with a subtle propaganda message. In this instance, the point is that exotic and foreign places are dangerous and suspicious, and good German/Swedish people should stay in the homeland and avoid dangerous foreign ideas.
    • The propaganda message is somewhat subverted in the very end, when Astrée tells Sven she “has no regrets” as their ship sails back to Sweden.
  • Hot Gypsy Woman: A hot gypsy woman makes money by singing on the waterfront.
  • Match Cut: There's a cut from Astree opening the blinds in the Avila mansion to Dr. Gomez in the same position, opening the blinds in his hotel room.
  • New Old Flame: A cut back to Sweden serves to introduce Dr. Sven Nagel, who was briefly Astrée's boyfriend in the backstory, before she left for Puerto Rico and never came back.
  • Old Retainer: Rosita, who was Don Pedro's nanny when he was a child and is head of the household decades later. She hates Astrée.
  • Red Herring:
    • Rosita, Don Pedro's old servant, is shown in her first scene to despise Astrée, her new mistress. This seems like it will be an important part of the story. It has no relevance to the rest of the story at all.
    • Later, after the outbreak of "Puerto Rico fever" that is the main plot, little Juan comes down with fever. Apparently he just has a regular old fever, though, as he gets better soon, with his brief illness having no relevance to the story.
  • Time Skip: Ten years from Astrée's blissful wedding day. The romance is quite dead.
  • Title Drop: The traditional Caribbean "habanera" music is mentioned more than once. Astrée herself sings a habanera song at a party near the end of the film.
  • Translation Convention: You might expect the people of Puerto Rico to speak Spanish and the American prefect to speak English, but nope, German for everybody.