The Virgin Diaries

Jessica Woodworth

B/USA/D/NL/FIN/MOR, 2002, 56 min

Fatiha, a deeply religious, young and modern Moroccan woman of 28, is to be married off to a man whom her grandfather has chosen for her. The fiancé kisses her hand but later regrets this gesture, believing he has committed a sin in the eyes of Islam. Concerned about his reaction and worrying about how to live a life without transgressing the laws of Islam if she doesn’t even know what is permitted and what is not, Fatiha decides to search for answers.

Fatiha and her American filmmaker friend, Jessica Woodworth, embark on a research trip about sexuality that takes them to religious schools in remote areas of Morocco. Fatiha approaches religious teachers and asks questions on virginity but gets only vague answers. (She learns that the repair of the hymen is one of the most common minor operations in Morocco).

The two young women represent two diametrically opposite cultures and views of sexuality, one almost pitying the other for not having had a religious upbringing and the other trying to defend her liberal, secular view of the world. But in spite of this, they are great friends who respect each other.

The filmmaker originally met and befriended Fatiha when she was researching Moroccan family-law reforms. Making a film about a friend can be a delicate project. While going about her business of telling a story the filmmaker must maintain professional distance to her film project and seek the right, sometimes painful, questions without compromising the friend’s loyalty. In this case, Woodworth uses voiceover as a narrative device.

Jessica Woodworth

A voiceover establishes a certain intimacy with the viewer. To be intimate with viewers and the protagonist at the same time is also a difficult balance. But Jessica Woodworth succeeds in this endeavour and makes a fine attempt to understand how sexuality and Islam are lived in Morocco through the story of Fatiha.

An unexpected turning point occurs when Fatiha falls in love with another man. Without revealing the ending, the film shows how difficult love can be for a young, Muslim woman caught between her personal desires and her respect for family and religion. At the bottom line there is no easy way out. Conservative traditions where sex is an absolute taboo override individual desires, especially those of a young Muslim woman. The film raises a lot of questions and clearly portrays the complex issue of sexuality in a culture where a kiss on the hand may still be perceived as inadmissible.