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Hana Doda, still a girl, escapes from her destiny of being wife and servant which is imposed on the women in the inhospitable mountains in Albania. She appeals to the old law of the Kanun and swears her eternal virginity thus becoming a "sworn virgin". She turns into a man, takes up a rifle and becomes Mark, Mark Doda. It is in exchange for this sacrifice that Hana is allowed to be considered at the same level as other men. Her battle does not only mean that she must rebel against what destiny has been writing on her body for centuries, but she must also reject, in name of this rebellion, every form of love. A refusal that becomes her prison. After more than ten years spent in solitude in the mountains as a man, she becomes brutish and she transforms to survive the hardship, the cold and misery, until something returns to awaken her again... Hana decides to change life and painstakingly regain her body. She knows that leaving the mountains is the price she will have to pay to be able ...
Laura Bispuri's has a very clear intent in her debut feature Vergine guirata and the director sets about delivering its theme in the most direct way possible; consequently it's one that doesn't have much time for poetic observations or even an openness that might allow the spectator to meet it half-way.
There's perhaps not much room for open interpretation anyway in the case of how life is for women living in a remote village in northern Albania. Hana (Alba Rohrwacher) has been taken in by a family there, but seems determined to follow her own path, rejecting the restrictions that have been placed on the work that women can do and even on who they choose to love. Her friend/ adopted sister Lila has found this lifestyle impossible and has left the region to marry and live in Italy. Hana has taken an even more drastic step and chosen the way of the tradition of burmesha (sworn virgin), renouncing her female identity to live as a man.
Hana, under her male identity as Mark, has now also found that it is time to leave her Albanian home and goes to find her sister by adoption in Rome. Still living and dressing as a man - the masculine identity of Mark left ambiguous but only for someone who don't know Alba Rohrwacher - it takes some while for Hana to rediscover herself, and inevitably, having lived as a 'sworn virgin', there are some issues to be resolved within herself with regards to her sexuality, which is assailed by sensations at the swimming pool where her niece is training as a synchronised swimmer.
Learning to become a woman again is certainly a unique subject for a film, but essentially Vergine guirata is just another spin on the idea of identity, on learning to feel comfortable with your own sexuality and who you are. It is very simple and direct on those terms, and it seems to borrow something from Celine Schiamma's Water Lilies in how it relates those themes to synchronised swimming. Even though it is straightforward in its theme and focusses on the unique situation of Hana/Mark, Bispuri's film does take a few moments out to linger over a variety of bodies at the poolside to suggests that there is more than one choice available, and that we are all free to control who it is we want to be.
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