‘Viola di mare’ (‘Purple Sea’) tackles themes of love, death, gender,
and a whole lot more
by Nancy Ford
Viola di mare (Purple Sea), an appropriate film focus for National Women’s History Month, is more than a story of “two women and their everlasting love,” as its tagline describes. It is a true story (or, at least, a story of a true Sicilian legend) of “two women and their everlasting love” for each other.
Since childhood, Angela has neither feared nor recognized the absurdity of proposing
marriage to her soulmate, Sara. Even an exorcism can’t rid Angela of her unnatural, “demonic” desires; she imagines a full, rich life together, transported by the purity and intention of their love, despite the supreme oppression and arranged marriage tradition of the 1800s. Blissfully, Sara feels the same way.
When adulthood and social convention force the gender issue, Angela binds her womanly breasts, cuts her flowing hair, and, as Angelo, becomes the husband her beloved Sara needs, as well as the son her abusive monster of a father wants.
Make no mistake: Angela/o is not trans—she is simply determined, by any means necessary, to claim love’s prize that is reserved exclusively for men. Angela dresses like Angelo, but she never abandons her inner Angela. It is Angela whom Sara loves, and their rapturous, femininely rhythmed lovemaking reminds us that they are both all-woman.
Crossing the cross-dressing line, Angela and Sara are eventually and predictably shunned by most of their fellow villagers when they want to expand their loving family. It is their shared desire to bring new life into their world that perversely balances their eventual undoing with Angela’s ultimate liberation.
Winner of the Best Film prize at the 2009 Nice Film Festival and selected by a slew of other festivals, Purple Sea is intense, triumphant, and exhausting—just like real love between two women should be.
Donatella Maiorca directs, inspired by the novel Minchia Di Re written by Giacomo Pilati. Italian with English subtitles. 2009. Strand Releasing (strand releasing.com).