Our Rating: ★★★★☆
L Factor: Lesbian Film/Gender Bender
Short Take: Passing as a man to love a woman in 19th century Sicily
Alternate Titles: Viola di mare
Year: 2009
Duration: 105 min
Language: Italy/Italian
MPAA: Not Rated
Director: Donatella Maiorca
Writer: Giacomo Pilati, Donatella Maiorca
Starring: Ennio Fantastichini, Isabella Ragonese, Valeria Solarino

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Purple SeaThe Purple Sea is an historical lesbian romance set in the 19th century on a Sicilian island. Based on a true story, it follows the life of Angela (Valeria Solarino), a woman who early on realizes her love for her best friend Sara (Isabella Ragonese).

Living with an abusive father who wanted a son instead of a daughter, Angela is strong willed and suffers beatings at his hands. When she refuses to go through with an arranged marriage and insists that Sara is the only one she will marry, her father reacts by locking Angela in the cellar for what must be months.

Finally her mother solves the problem by threatening to reveal a secret about the local priest. By playing this card, the priest and Angela’s father agree to declare Angela now Angelo. Passing as a man, cutting her hair and binding her chest, Angelo is free to marry Sara and live a new life working for his father, who is the manager for the local quarry. The quarry is the economic lifeblood of the island, and the rest of the villagers must publicly accept the transformation and the marriage in order to keep their jobs and lives in the church.

It is not something that Angela asked for, and the transition is not an easy one, but behind closed doors, the two women revel in their life together. Actress Valeria Solarino is stunning as Angela and equally handsome and convincing as Angelo. She and Isabella Ragonese as Sara give us some beautiful love scenes, and the cinematography is intense as well, complimenting the mood with the surrounding sea.

The story is based on the book, “Minchia di Re” by Giacomo Pilati, unfortunately not translated into English. The fact that it is based on a true story makes this film all the more interesting. As one might guess, the romance is also a tragedy, but well worth the watch.  (AB)