There’s no need for alarm; we needn’t fear a militant or agenda-driven feminist narrative in Laura Bispuri’s debut feature “Vergine giurata” [Eng. Title: Sworn Virgin]. It is rather a nuanced critique of restrictive sexual and cultural norms in some communities and our protagonist’s determination for the right to his/her own body.
The film begins with ‘Mark’ – formerly Hana (Alba Rohrwacher) leaving her frozen Albanian village behind for an Italian city where Lila (Flonja Kodheli), the daughter of her foster parents, lives. They were close and grew up together, until Lila decided to elope with her Albanian lover barely a week before her arranged marriage.
While Lila has since established a family in Italy, a tomboyish Hana found the idea of becoming a traditional housewife oppressive, and has hence drawn upon a right from local custom that would allow her to forego her societal obligations as a woman – she had taken a community-sanctioned vow to celibacy by cutting her hair short and dressing up as a man.
While Hana may have, in theory, became Mark – she had a man’s rights, including the right to bear arms and hunt for a living, she was in practise already branded for life a sexual identity from her days as Hana, and her new-found independence as Mark only led to her further isolation. She had to leave, and hence her arrival at Lila’s doorstep unannounced. A new life now beckons for Hana…
The thoughtfully meandering film inter-cuts the past with the present to paint a vivid portrait of Hana and her world, one that resonates universally despite its specifics. As our evolving understanding of sexuality and identity keep reshaping modern lives, it’s imperative to keep the ‘dialogue’ within society open without necessarily being combative or antagonistic. The film achieves this in no small measure thanks to Ms. Bispuri’s commendable direction and Ms. Rohrwacher’s assured performance. For once, it’s also a relief to see Albanians not portrayed as criminal or refugee stereotypes, but as fellow humans with life goals not too dissimilar to our own. Highly Recommended Viewing..!
The Nudity: Alba Rohrwacher
Since the film specifically focuses on Hana’s metamorphosis from someone uncomfortable with her body and identity – to the extent of even living in discomfort by wrapping layers of cloth around her breasts to appear less feminine, brief nudity becomes unavoidable while portraying her gradual transformation.