Sworn Virgin

FilmWatch Weekly: “Money Monster,” “High-Rise,” and more

George Clooney, Susan Sarandon, and Ewan McGregor sidle into theaters this week, but your best bets may lie elsewhere

What’s this? A Hollywood movie with big stars tackling a socially relevant issue in a summer movie? Don’t worry, “Money Monster” isn’t going to subvert the dominant seasonal paradigm that easily. And it probably won’t make much of a dent at the box office, coming in “Captain America”‘s wake. Luckily, as the mantra goes around here, there’s plenty more to choose from, including a long-awaited J.G. Ballard adaptation, a solid drama about backward Albanian gender customs (really!), and the continuation of series devoted to Czech Cinema and Native American-made films. Dive in!


George Clooney stars as Lee Gates in TriStar Pictures' MONEY MONSTER.

George Clooney stars as Lee Gates in TriStar Pictures’ MONEY MONSTER.



“Money Monster”: A failed investor takes a cable TV financial guru (George Clooney) hostage on the air in this topical thriller that plays out in real time. Directed by Jodie Foster and co-starring Julia Roberts. (Living Room Theater & other locations) READ REVIEW

“The Meddler”: After her husband dies, a widow (Susan Sarandon) moves to Los Angeles to be near her daughter (Rose Byrne). But she turns out to be a bit of a meddler. That’s not a spoiler—it’s right there in the title. (Regal Fox Tower) READ REVIEW

“Sworn Virgin”: This Italian film shines a light on a bizarre Albanian custom in which women take a vow of chastity in order to be granted the simple rights that men enjoy in their society. (Clinton Street Theater) READ REVIEW

“High-Rise”: J.G. Ballard’s novel about a 50-story apartment building that’s a metaphor for the class system becomes a film from British director Ben Wheatley starring Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Irons. (Cinema 21, Kiggins Theatre) READ REVIEW

“Last Days in the Desert”: Ewan McGregor plays Jesus in this visually stunning film that takes place during the final portion of His 40-day fast in the desert. He meets a family in need and tries to resist the temptations of the devil himself (also McGregor). (Regal Fox Tower) READ REVIEW



“Being Charlie”: Rob Reiner directed this addiction drama co-written by his son Nick and based on Nick’s real-world struggles.

“The Darkness”: Kevin Bacon and Radha Mitchell star in a horror film that wasn’t screened for critics.




Friday, May 13:

“Wadjda”: This inspiring drama about a girl and her bicycle was the first Saudi Arabian feature film ever directed by a woman. 5th Avenue Cinema, 7 pm & 9:30 pm; also Saturday, May 14, 7 pm & 9:30 pm, and Sunday, May 15, at 3 pm.

“The Way We Talk”: This locally made documentary explores the science and combats the stigma associated with stuttering. 5th Avenue Cinema, 7 pm; also Saturday May 14, 7 pm.

“Hump Film Festival”: The annual celebration of good-natured, homemade porn returns for another year. Cinema 21, 7:15 pm & 9:30 pm; also Saturday May 14, 6 pm & 8:15 pm.

“Crush the Skull”: In this indie horror flick, a band of burglars pick the wrong house for their latest caper—it turns out to the headquarters of a sadistic serial killer. Clinton Street Theater, 9:30 pm.

“East of Eden”: James Dean’s final film was this 1955 drama based on John Steinbeck’s novel. Laurelhurst Theater, 6:30 pm; through Thursday, May 19 with 1pm shows on Saturday & Sunday.

“Irma Vep”: Director Olivier Assayas’ 1996 film stars Hong Kong icon Maggie Cheung and is inspired by the classic silent French serial “Les Vampires.” Northwest Film Center, 5:30 pm.

“The Way Out”: A Roma family struggle to survive amid discrimination and poverty in this searing social drama screening as part of the New Czech Cinema series. Northwest Film Center, 8 pm.

“The Long Goodbye”: Robert Altman’s offbeat update of Raymond Chandler stars Elliott Gould as private eye Philip Marlowe. Academy Theater, 2:15 pm & 9:20 pm; through Thursday, May 19.

Saturday, May 14:

“Heaven Can Wait”: After his death, a lifelong playboy (Don Ameche) tries to convince the devil that he belongs in Hell in director Ernst Lubitsch’s delightful 1943 Technicolor comedy. Northwest Film Center, 4:30 pm; also Monday, May 16 at 7 pm.

“Gangster Ka”: An organized criminal who prefers to avoid violence gets pushed over the edge after a rival mobster murders his father. Part of the New Czech Cinema series. Northwest Film Center, 7 pm.

Sunday, May 15:

“Naturally Native”: Three American Indian sisters try to start a cosmetics company using their family’s traditional herbal remedies in this drama screening as part of the series “Through Indian Eyes: Native American Cinema.” Northwest Film Center, 4:30 pm.

“Art and Craft”: Fascinating documentary about art forger Max Landis, who donated hundreds of faked masterworks to museums for years before being found out. Director Jennifer Grausman will conduct a post-film Q&A. Northwest Film Center, 7 pm.

Monday, May 16:

“Strange and Vicious War Cartoons”: Archivist Dennis Nyback dips into his collection and comes up with 16mm classics including Windsor McCay’s 1918 “The Sinking of the Lusitania.” Hollywood Theatre, 7:30 pm.

Tuesday, May 17:

“How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things That Climate Can’t Change”: Academy Award-nominated documentary filmmaker Josh Fox (“Gasland”) travels the world looking for reasons to maintain hope in the face of looming environmental catastrophe. Cinema 21, 7 pm, through Thursday, May 19.

“T-Bird Gang”: Roger Corman financed this low-budget 1959 thriller about a teenager who goes undercover with a hot rod gang to find his father’s killer. Hollywood Theatre, 7:30 pm.

Wednesday, May 18:

“Trudell”: This 2005 documentary profiles Native American poet, recording artist, and activist John Trudell. Screening as part of the series “Through Indian Eyes: Native American Cinema.” Northwest Film Center, 7 pm.

“The Invention of Morel”: Anna Karina stars in this 1974 Italian adaptation of the acclaimed 1941 Argentine novel by Adolfo Bioy Casares. Church of Film at North Star Ballroom, 8 pm.

“River of Grass”: The 1995 debut feature of director Kelly Reichardt (“Old Joy,” “Meek’s Cutoff”), about a housewife who takes up a life of crime in Florida, has been digitally restored. Reichardt will conduct a post-film Q&A. Hollywood Theatre, 7:30 pm.

Thursday, May 19:

“Strike a Pose”: The opening night film of the 10th Portland Queer Documentary Film Festival takes us back to the 1991 Madonna concert film “Truth or Dare” and catches up with some of the featured dancers 25 years later. The festival continues through Sunday, May 22. Hollywood Theatre, 7:30 pm.

“As Time Goes By in Shanghai”: You might call them the Chinese version of the Buena Vista Social Club. This documentary profiles a group of elderly jazz musicians who have been playing together for decades, through political upheaval and in a country one doesn’t normally think of as jazzy. Clinton Street Theater, 7 pm.

“Rhymes for Young Ghouls”: A strong-willed Native girl resorts to dealing weed in order to stay out of reservation school in this slickly made thriller by Quebec director Jeff Barnaby. Screens as part of the series “Through Indian Eyes: Native American Cinema.” Northwest Film Center, 7 pm.


Film Review: “Sworn Virgin” exposes repressive Albanian custom

This sensitive debut film centers on a real custom in which women take on male identities in exchange for a vow of chastity.

So, apparently this is a real thing. In some patriarchal cultures in northern Albania, a woman can take a vow of chastity, allowing her adopt a male name and appearance, and participate in activities from which women are normally forbidden. These include shooting a gun, smoking and drinking, and basically having any sort of say in anything.

As dramatized in the film “Sworn Virgin,” this does not mean these women are lesbians, or transgender, merely that this is only way they can get around the strict codes of their villages. Crazy, right?

This Italian production stars Alba Rohrwacher as Hana, who shows up on her sister Lila’s doorstep in Rome one day, dressed like a man and calling herself Mark. They haven’t seen each other since Lila fled their hometown years earlier to escape an arranged marriage. As Hana tries to assimilate into modern society, flashbacks reveal the repressive childhoods that she and Nina endured in their Albanian village.

As fascinating as it is to learn about this archaic practice, the real drama in “Sworn Virgin” comes as present-day Mark gradually tries to figure out where his or her identity lies once freed from restrictions. Director Laura Bispuri, in her first feature, sensitively handles the delicate intersection of biological gender, sexual orientation, and simple self-determination. The film never feels either exploitive or preachy.

“Sworn Virgin” was one of the more unexpected pleasures of this year’s Portland International Film Festival, and fully deserving of this return engagement.

(84 minutes, not rated, opens Friday, May 13, at the Clinton Street Theater) GRADE: B+


PIFF best bets for Wednesday, Feb. 24

A Turkish film about a boy and a dog and an Albanian one about a woman living as a man are today's international cinema highlights.

The 39th Portland International Film Festival is undergoing Balkanization. No, it’s not breaking up “into small, often hostile units” (thanks, Merriam-Webster!), despite the behavior of some of the wearier festival-goers. But our recommendations for today’s viewing hearken from Albania and Turkey, so it seemed appropriate to trot out the term. One is about a boy and his dog. The other is about a woman living as a man who decides to live as a woman again. Details below.

Sworn Virgin

“Sworn Virgin”: Slight and fine-boned, with dark cropped hair, Mark (Alba Rohrwacher) grew up in the Albanian countryside. When he arrives at his sister’s doorstep in Italy, his stroppy teenage niece asks him, “Are you a fag? Or a cross-dressing lesbian?” The answer is more complicated.

Laura Bispuri’s quiet but absorbing feature examines the fascinating Balkan custom of the sworn virgin. In exchange for a pledge of lifelong virginity, women are permitted to assume the name, dress and lifestyle of a man. For Mark, this voluntary social queerness has more to do with escape and less to do with following an inner longing; drinking whiskey and carrying a rifle sounded more appealing than being married off as chattel (who can blame him?). Scenes of Mark’s brutal upbringing in the frostbitten village are interspersed with his new, more spacious life in Italy, where his defenses begin to thaw and the burdens of an ill-fitting gender identity finally become too much to bear.

What does Mark really want? To wear a lacy black bra instead of a binder? To have sex with a man? “Sworn Virgin” declines to pass judgment on the political implications of Mark/Hana’s transition-in-reverse. Instead, it’s a sensitive exploration of the bodies we live in and the connection they have to our souls. [Lily Hudson]

(Albania, 90 min., in Albanian and Italian with English subtitles) Wed. Feb. 24, 6:15 p.m., Regal Fox Tower; also Fri., Feb. 26, 8:30 p.m., Whitsell Auditorium.


“Sivas”: Call me corny, call me old-fashioned, but there’s something primally satisfying about a boy-and-his dog tale. That’s exactly what this Turkish drama is, but it’s a well-executed, sensitively acted, example of one.

The movie tells you right off the bat that no animals were harmed in its making, which both puts you at ease and warns you that some fake, but realistic-looking, animal violence is in the offing.

The setting is the windswept Anatolian steppes, where we met the adolescent Aslan. (His name means “lion” in Turkish, so when a relative refers to him as such, it’s not necessarily a Narnia reference.) The title critter is a burly sheepdog who loses a dogfight and is left for dead afterwards. The barbaric practice is presented by first-time director Kaan Mujdeci without any explicit moralizing, but Aslan’s rescue of the dog and ensuing friendship serve as an implicit but thorough critique of it.

Aslan tries to use his barely domesticated pet to impress a female classmate who’s playing the princess in an upcoming school play–he also tries to finagle the role of the prince for himself–and these efforts culminate in another dogfight, one that, despite the opening notice, may be tough for animal lovers to watch.

Simply but strikingly photographed and evocative of its place and culture, “Sivas” could have mustered more narrative satisfaction, but the charms of Aslan and his canine companion are enough to make it worthwhile. [Marc Mohan]

(Turkey, 98 min., Turkish with English subtitles) Wed., Feb. 24, 6:30 p.m., Empirical Theater at OMSI; also Fri., Feb. 26, 6 p.m., Regal Fox Tower