Laura Bispuri, 38, was the only Italian director to field a film in the 2015 Berlin competition — her debut “Sworn Virgin” centers around the archaic Albanian custom in which a woman swears to remain a virgin and impersonate a man so she can obtain a man’s rights. The movie is an adaptation of a novel by Elvira Dones.
PERFECT FIT: Bispuri wrote the screenplay for star Alba Rohrwacher, who studied a northern dialect of Albanian for the film. “I wrote the screenplay thinking of her, and I never wavered from that choice. We worked in an almost symbiotic rapport,” Bispuri says, “constantly seeking out new things about her character, Mark, toward whom we both got very affectionate.”
ISSUE OF FREEDOM: The writer-director’s previous works were short films thematically similar to her feature, including her 2010 debut, “Passing Time,” which won Italy’s David di Donatello award. “My shorts revolved around female characters and themes of female freedom and identity, which are dear to me,” Bispuri, says, adding that she feels the experiences of the central character in “Sworn Virgin” are universal. “The protagonist is suspended in a state of being neither man nor woman, which I think is a very contemporary condition. That’s what I was most interested in. It’s quite a universal theme.”
‘SWORN’ CHALLENGES: Bispuri notes that the peculiarity of this film was having to start from a specific context, the mountains of Albania, and go from there to a much more contemporary setting in Italy. “It’s about how the protagonist becomes a sworn virgin, but also about her subsequent discovery of sexuality and love.”
A QUICK STUDY: The film was shot in the Albanian village of Valbona, and the director worked to familiarize herself with the culture. “I tried to get to know it as much as possible, by reading literature and poetry as well as the code of Albanian traditional law, and meeting with several real sworn virgins,” she says.
ON THE HORIZON: The film, which received strong reviews in Berlin, will unspool at April’s Tribeca Film Festival. As for her next project, Bispuri is guarded, saying only that she is busy writing.