Tuesday 16 August 2011

‘Viola de Mare’ – Sea Purple – Cross Dressing in 19th Century Sicily...

Imagine being so in love that you are willing to change sex and give up your life as a woman or man. I am pretty sure I would not do it, but this is what happens in ‘Sea Purple’, the stunning film from Italian director Donatella Maiorca. Based on the novel ‘Minchia di Re’by Giacomo Pilati’, the title refers to small saltwater fish, capable of changing gender. The novel is based on a true story, and as hard to believe as it is at times, you have to remember that in those days what the Catholic Church said, the people believed.

Set on a small island off the coast of Sicily, Sea Purple is a stunning film portraying the rocky beauty of the coast, and the windswept seas. No expense has been spared on the richly textured shots and accurate portrayal of life for the islanders of 19th century Sicily

Our heroine is Angela, (a strikingly beautiful Valeria Solarino), a young woman full of wilful spirit. Her father (Ennio Fantastichini – great surname) is the local quarry boss, and in their village the men either work at the quarry or make a living as fishermen. The work is backbreaking at the quarry, and not helped by the fact that her father is a total ‘bastardo’. He doesn’t only treat the workers bad, he is horrible to his down trodden wife and her sister, but Angela bears the brunt of his beatings. 

The local women are all good little housewives, who seem to be content to weave fishing nets in their spare time. All except Angela, who seems to wander about aimlessly awaiting the return of her childhood best friend Sara (Isabella Ragonese). Unbeknownst to Sara, Angela’s feelings are more than just platonic (all the better for the story!). She appears to have been deeply in love with her since they were children, and is not a woman to let convention and a strict catholic upbringing get in her way. Angela’s patience is worth it as Sara does eventually return to the village, from where she had to flee with her family as a young girl. 

Sara has become a beautiful woman who can get any man she wants, and at first, things don’t go as planned for Angela. Tomaso (Marco Foschi) a successful fisherman, and childhood friend of theirs, also has his heart set on Sara. Of course this is not what Angela had in mind, and she swiftly sets up an ambush to try and entice Sara into the Sapphic pleasures.

Happiness is short lived though, as Angela has to put up with her father’s beatings, and then his decision to marry her off to one of his workers. At first it looks like she may go along with the marriage, but her defiance by embarking on a relationship with Sara, results in a bizarre punishment, and the eventual turning point that gives the film a somewhat hard to believe angle. But Mama, (Giselda Valodi, well cast as the dowdy mother) comes to the rescue though, with a plan involving the local priest, and let’s just say that Angela’s next haircut is very short!

Romance, fear, love and longing, it’s all here in Sea Purple. Several layers are interwoven in the lives of the villagers. For fans of Italian cinema, Lesbian cinema or even for those who love a good period drama it’s a must. In the role of the somewhat moody aunt, we see the ravishing Maria Grazia Cucinotta, who I last saw in Il Postino many years ago. What a transformation – from sexpot to spinster, don’t expect any low necklines in this film. Her role is quite small, and at first it is not really clear if she is Angela’s sister or aunt. I found the acting to be intense, and this is definitely not a light hearted film.

This is the second film from Maiorca. Her first film was Viola, back in 1998 – so quite a gap between productions but she seems to have been busy with work in television. She wrote the script for Sea Purple alongside Pilati. The film is released by Peccadillo Pictures for sale on DVD.

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