My city’s international film festival has an impressive lineup with some great Italian films and on the top of that list: Vergine Giurata, Sworn Virgin.
MARCH 30 – APRIL 10
If you live in or are planning to visit our city, you are in luck. This year’s festival has a strong Italian presence, with one film in particular that we’ve been dying to see make it to the USA.
Sworn Virgin is a fascinating film from director Laura Bispuri and has already won prizes at film festivals all over the world.
In it, Hana’s life is dictated by the tradition of her northern Albanian homeland. There, women can’t hold a man’s job, smoke, drink, or carry firearms, UNLESS, they give up their femininity. For a variety of different reasons (and I am guessing homosexuality is one of them) women can renounce their gender, and live as men, but they must swear to remain virgins.
This practice is clearly disappearing, because even Albanians I have spoken to haven’t heard of it, but it’s an actual thing. In Sworn Virgin, Hana isn’t a lesbian; she just wants to drink and shoot guns. More than that, she wants the right to do those things just like the boys can.
Hana’s adopted sister Lila sees the writing on the wall early on and leaves, middle fingers blazing, when her father tells it’s time to marry and that he’s giving her husband a bullet in case he ever feels like shooting her.
Even still, Laura Bispuri does not cram morality lessons down our throats. She doesn’t preach. She doesn’t even judge. She just tells a very human tale of Hana, who sheds the chains that bind her.
I had the chance to talk with Laura, producer Marta Donzelli, and actresses Alba Rohrwacher and Flonja Kodheli when it made its US premier at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival.
“The beauty of the film is that it is without judgment”, said the film’s star, Alba Rohrwacher. “It’s reality with a delicate touch, and it doesn’t demonize this reality. It looks at the phenomenon in a very loving way,” and she pointed to part of the film in which the mother, played by Ilire Vinca Celaj, lovingly tells her girls what is expected of them in life. It is not good to have a man’s job. It is not good to drink or smoke. It is not good to choose your own husband.
Bispuri told me that her favorite part of the film is when Mark, the sworn virgin played by Rohrwacher, leaves Albania and takes one last look at her homeland.
“It was sad”, I said.
“Freedom doesn’t necessarily mean happiness”, said Flonja with bittersweet tenderness.