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Emancipation and Identity in Stéphanie Di Giusto’s “Rosalie”

Nadia Tereszkiewicz shines as a bearded woman in 19th-century rural France. A poignant melodrama, an unprecedented story of emancipation by Stéphanie Di Giusto
Nadia Tereszkiewicz in ROSALIE, directed by Stéphanie Di Giusto

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Rosalie (2023)
Directed by Stéphanie Di Giusto

“Do you promise to live with him in truth? Tell me, I promise,” recites the wedding vow to which the graceful and ethereal Rosalie must promptly respond. However, at that precise moment in the sacred formula, a prolonged silence hangs in the air, prompting perplexed looks from the groom, Abel. The affirmative response soon follows, calming the ceremony but leaving a trail of legitimate questions. What causes this hesitation, and why does the prospect of being completely honest for life provoke such indecision in the young woman? Why does Rosalie mask the truth, hiding an undeniably distinctive secret?

From birth, she suffers from hirsutism, an excessive growth of hair on almost her entire body and face. Always forced to hide who she is, when she is married off to an older man more interested in her dowry to pay off his substantial debts, she convinces herself to reveal her condition, thinking she has finally earned the right to be desired. Despite Abel’s absolute and immediate rejection, he cannot break the audacious will of the woman to free herself in all her seductive femininity. Her confident attitude refutes others’ complaints, gradually making her beloved as she has learned to love herself. Openly challenging the convictions of the self-righteous, she dismantles every illogical morality about outward appearance, as much a product of its time, and seeks to legitimize herself without the compromises she has always had to live with.

The heroine of Stéphanie Di Giusto’s film has consistently disguised her appearance to make it canonically acceptable: being blonde, with gentle features and wearing modest clothing allowed her to fully adhere to the aesthetic norms of 1870s Brittany, avoiding public ridicule. She also escaped the forced destiny of a “freak show” attraction for women like her, overturning society’s perception by proudly flaunting her unique appearance.

Presented in the Un Certain Regard section of 2023, Rosalie is a story of emancipation that the director wanted to tell with a fresh perspective. The subject of the “bearded woman” is not new to cinema, and in this sense, the image of the hirsute Annie Girardot in La donna scimmia (1964) remains the most indelible, but while Ferreri’s approach is grotesque and tragic, Di Giusto’s is unconventional and aims to embrace diversity. The atypical status is never an alibi or a cause for discouragement; it is a vital and resolute drive for concrete emancipation. The dramatic impulse becomes an opportunity for reflection on the plurality of reactions to difference, comparing those who remain inhibited by their beliefs and those who learn to look beyond the visible. A period female melodrama characterized by the evocative use of context, nature, and subdued colors that amplify the refined radiance of Nadia Tereszkiewicz, always magnetic.

Miriam Raccosta

Cinematografo, May 27, 2024

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