Review: The Albanian Virgin
by Ola Salwa
- Bujar Alimani’s new film is a tale of female revolution and a curious ethnographic study of Albanian customs
Bujar Alimani’s The Albanian Virgin – a winner of the Ecumenic Jury Prize and a Special Mention of the International Competition at the Warsaw Film Festival (read the news)- is that type of film that unspools slowly, with a slightly awkward start, leading to an emotional and luscious ending. The story is set in 1950s and 1960s Albania, ruled by probably the worst dictator of the Cold War era, Enver Hoxha, and revolves around Luana, a strong-willed and rebellious girl. According to strict tribal law, she is to marry a man chosen by her family, and obey both the elders and her new husband. But after she meets Agim, who teaches her how to read and thus be an independent thinker, she questions the centuries-old tradition. For director Bujar Alimani and ultimately the audience, Luana is a guide though rough mountain tribe code - which incidentally inspired the Polish film Eastern [+see also:
film profile] by Piotr Adamski - but also through communist rules in Albania. Both authorities aimed to seize control over people's lives, depriving them their freedom of choice and independence. Communists also took away religion and books, so that no one could imagine an alternative to their rules. Luana, who was lucky enough to learn to read, finds a way to fight her battle for freedom and obey the village code at the same time, which comes at big personal price.
The Albanian Virgin is a female western (or rather eastern), however with the - luckily outdated - underlying notion that a woman has to be like a man to beat the patriarchal system. The film also plays well as an ethnographic study of the strict code of mountain tribes in Albania, which, as news outlet from all over the world remind us, are not quite extinct. Women are still married off against their will and killed if they don’t respect the honour of their families.
The past and the present intertwine here, as DoP Jorg Widmer often locks his camera on mountainous landscapes, which can provide shelter for the protagonist, but also can be ruthless in its savage beauty. As the fate of her family weighs on Luana's shoulders, the film's emotional impact depends on the intense onscreen presence of actress Rina Krasniqi (playing the grown up Luana). Her performance is fierce and strong and hints at the emotional fragility of her character. She is like a flower blooming on a rock – her only mission is to survive in this hostile environment. Unconsciously, she also paves a way for the next generations of women to take their roots deeper and deeper to smash the rock from within.
The Albanian Virgin was produced by Anita Elsani (Elsani Film, Elsani & Neary Media GmbH), and co-produced by Peter De Maegd (Potemkino), Tefta Bejko (90 Production Company), Besnik Krapi (Circle Production) and ZDF/ARTE. World sales is being handled by The Playmaker.
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