opinion by Oana Zamfirache based on the film Love at Last by Stasha Tomic
The film tells the story of young girl Alisa who is being courted by a boy she met in her childhood and the rules that they have to respect if they are to marry with the community’s blessing.
From a feminist point of view, the film speaks less about a given community and its specificity and more about any traditional society that lives accordingly to the “golden rule” of patriarchy: the man holds all the power, he is the creator and the guardian of the law; the women are there to obey, to have and to raise children.
The film may try to edulcorate this sad truth by romanticizing the reality the women are living in: of course, there is love, there is friendship, there are dreams of independence and there are some who made it on their own. But the social system itself remains the same because like any other system, it relies on its rigid rules to survive. The fact that the community is a Roma community only makes things even more complicated for its least powerful members: young women.
The film tries to suggest that for Alisa and her boyfriend there is still a chance to live happily ever after since they are young and in love and probably will leave their community and live elsewhere. There they may live different lives from those of their parents, but this is a Disney-like happy ending that is far from being the reality of most women in Alisa’s community. Their lives will still be written by men, their identity will still be centered around their virginity and later in life around motherhood. “To become love” with a nice guy and getting away from the iron hand of the father may work for some and for a while, but what happens when the nice guy becomes the husband and the father of another girl? If the woman he married “gave herself” to him before marriage he will make sure that the same thing does not happen with his daughter. Like any other man for whom tradition is more important than rationality he will want to be the only exception from the rule and he will punish any other attempt to break it.
The film emphasizes one important aspect concerning gender roles in traditional communities. First of all, in most traditional societies, women are generally seen as having two main roles: mothers and whores. The good girl-bad girl dichotomy is of great importance in establishing, legitimizing and maintaining male supremacy. Only if they are divided and only if they choose without really choosing one of these options, can women be actually put down. By doing so, the patriarchal system makes sure not only that there is a constant victim and scapegoat for any social trouble, but also that the good girls are there to watch their own virtues and at the same time report back and eventually punish the bad girls. The bad girls are, of course, the ones for whom sexual freedom, or any kind of freedom, has such importance that it made them break the rules.
I began by saying that the film is not about one given community but about any community which structures itself around hierarchical relationships among its members. Love, finally has Roma characters, but it could just as well be about Romanians, Russians, Greeks and let’s not fool ourselves, any other Western or Eastern traditional community.
Oana Zamfirache holds a Master Degree in Philosophy from the University of Bucharest. She is a Ph.D candidate in Philosophy working on a thesis for feminism and pornography. She has also translated several books: Clear light of day, by Anita Desai, Paradise and Jazz by Toni Morrison.