A Farewell to Arms

in 8th OFF plus CAMERA - International Festival of Independent Cinema

by István Szathmáry

In Laura Bispuri’s smart debut film Sworn Virgin, the two main characters, Hana and Jonida, are like two different faces of the same personality and the same fate: the fate of the Albanian woman. After her parents’ death, Hana is adopted by Jonida’s family, living in a small mountain village in Albania. Even though the girls are not biological siblings, they grow up together, almost as if they were twins. But despite the strong bond between them, it soon becomes clear how different the two girls are, especially when confronted with the role which Albanian society offers to women. Neither girl is willing to accept her fate but their reactions are completely different.

Jonida runs away from an imposed marriage and goes to Italy with her older lover, while Hana chooses another solution. Hana cannot accept the fact that women cannot behave as men do in this strongly macho traditional rural community: she cannot carry a gun or hunt. However, this society offers a peculiar option for those who do not accept traditional gender roles. If a woman swears she will remain a virgin and live as a man for the rest of her life, the community will accept this. She can cut her hair, do the work of a man, and make decisions about her own life. This is an interesting phenomenon, from a perspective of ethnography and gender.

Fortunately Bispuri avoids all clichés; her characters are not merely puppets in an anthropological study or a feminist manifesto. Sworn Virgin is a Bildungsroman, the story of how Hana, living her life as Mark, discovers her femininity while visiting Jonida in Italy. However, this is an odyssey of two women: Jonida also confronts her past and finds absolution. By the end of the film, the two young women have finally achieved what so many take for granted: a common past with common memories. Bispuri constructs the movie cleverly, and does a great job playing with time frames. She avoids unnecessary drama and theatrical solutions, letting her actors dominate: they express a great deal with only a few gestures. This sensitive work is full of strong images and even contains some subtle humor. A very promising start.

Edited by Lesley Chow