A Lonely Flower Dress: Bergman Delivers Raw, Touching Romani Emancipation Drama
Marta Bergman’s feature debut depicts the struggle of Pamela (Alina Șerban), a young Romani woman from Romania who seeks refuge in a Belgian man’s arms hoping to achieve some financial as well as emotional security. Adopting unpolished feminism as a stance, Alone at My Wedding explores the emotions in the social outskirts of society, namely in the middle of the Roma community.
Pamela has a troublesome background, that of a single mother, orphan, unemployed and uneducated young woman who lives her day-by-day life under pressure. The shattered house she inhabits hosts a matriarchal microcosmos where her grandmother, daughter, plus herself, all act out specific dynamics of tenderness and intimacy – little fights, witty arguments about men, close physical contact, beauty rituals adapted to the social context, nudity, motherhood etc. Nevertheless, their microcosmos is surrounded by an extremely poor, pastel-colored Romanian village Pamela wishes to escape. She finds salvation in a matrimonial business that puts her in contact with Bruno, a middle-class Belgian who invites her to live together, not knowing about her daughter. But how can an Eastern Romani woman who doesn’t speak French, with a baby and no money, make her way to the Western lifestyle? By struggling, of course – not for the first or the last time either.
Alone at My Wedding holds a special place in the context of Romanian cinema, and an even more special one in the tradition of Romani storytelling. Namely a Belgian picture in terms of production, its subject and approach do partly belong to Romanian culture and its Romani sub-culture. Similarly to Ivana Mladenovic’s debut feature Soldiers. Story from Ferentari (2017), which tackled the queer intimacy between two men, an anthropologist and a poor Romani, Marta Bergman offers us a glimpse into the social and the emotional complexity of someone who represents a sample of the Romani status in Europe.
The feminist discourse behind Pamela’s transition to the Western middle-class lifestyle strikes out at certain moments, such as the episode in which the employees of the matrimonial business try to fit her in a number of normative types of beauty that would appeal to the clients. The strongest point of this discourse is the transition between different kinds of abuse, but not their conclusion. While Pamela is used is used to physical abuses back home, Bruno will now introduce her to a new, psychological form of abuse. It’s the sad realization that the man-woman dichotomy still exists in today’s society, even if wrapped in a different package. While talking to Bruno via Skype, Pamela embarks on an amusing yet touching speech about loneliness while she flex her muscles and practices boxing moves. Beneath the light humor of this scene, and the one in which she tries to mix Romanian with bits of French in order to communicate with Bruno, the representation of a kind of bittersweet feminist perspective, enriched by the specificity of the Romani struggle, really comes to the fore.
With Alone at My Wedding, Bergman gives us an insight into the astonishing inequalities through the eyes of a woman who has a Sisyphean battle on her hands – the story of a wedding that never truly comes to be, but in which everything is alarmingly possible.
Reviewed on October 20th at the 2018 Warsaw International Film Festival – Discoveries. 121 Mins. Part of the The Fipresci Warsaw Critics Project.