Laura Bispuri‘s SWORN VIRGIN (“vergine giurata” in the original italian title) feels incomplete, a partial film missing a final reel. SWORN centers on Hana (Alba Rohrwacher), a young Albanian woman who invokes the traditional right for females to become honorary males known as “burrnesh” in exchange for taking an oath of virginity. Years later Hana, now known as “Mark,” flees the countryside to live in Italy and rediscover her lost femininity.
The most fascinating parts of SWORN are the Albanian sequences where Hana encounters the outrageous injustices perpetrated on women that compel so many of them to become “sworn virgins.” Shot on location in the Albanian mountains, they are sumptuously beautiful and rich in the pageantry of rural life: funerals, bridal processions, and the burnesha ceremony preformed in front of twelve (male) village elders as required in Albanian sworn virgin folklore. But, infuriatingly, these sequences are spliced into the narrative via extended flashbacks. Most of the film takes place in Italy where she battles with her lost identity, but these passages see Hana as a largely passive character who stops, waits, and watches as the world moves on without her.
The Albania scenes frame Hana as a proactive character, hunting, running away from home, and making her own decisions. To put it another way: Hana makes things happen, things happen to Mark. Perhaps this juxtaposition was intentional, much like Bispuri’s decision to shoot the Italy scenes with lengthy, unedited long takes and use more fast-paced, traditional editing for the Albanian scenes. But it nevertheless deflates Hana’s journey of emotional weight.
Nathanael C. Hood is new to Screen Comment. An accredited journalist at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival, he is currently completing a degree at NYU Film.