The Bucharest native Marta Bergman directed 4 documentaries about the life of Roma people in Romania, and their stories inspired her to create a fictionalized story that reflects the culture of Roma people and the struggles that the young Roma girls face as they grow up — some trying their best to break away from their traditions and communities. Bergman’s fiction feature debut Alone at My Wedding (Seule a mon mariage) premiered as a part of the 2018 Cannes Film Festival’s ACID sidebar and it addresses not only the Roma culture, but the so far poorly explored topic of mail-order brides.
Pamela (Alina Serban) is a young Roma mother, who lives in poverty with her two-year-old daughter and grandmother. With her grandmother continuously on her case, and with a dead-end existence that most of her people face, she wants to break out and be free. She dreams of a different life, so she colours her hair, puts up her deceased mother’s dress and signs up for an online marriage agency, in the hopes of finding herself a husband abroad. She puts a lot on faith; the service is expensive, and asking for a French man (even though she her knowledge of French is limited to a handful of French words) who showers and will not pimp her out, we are clear on the fact that her expectations are not set all that high. She just wants an out — and the one she finds through a Skype meeting is the middle-aged, gray-haired Belgian who seems to be a nice guy. One night, she sneaks out and flies to Belgium, leaving her daughter behind; in order to get the best possible match, Pamela hid her daughter’s existence.
Her partner Bruno (Tom Vermeir) seems to embody all that is gray about Belgium — but has some unorthodox, slightly creepy sides. For one, he listens to Flemish death metal — which turns out to be the first in a series of differences that make the relationship between him and Pamela difficult and awkward from the very start. Given his lack of personality, we are for the longest time unclear what he liked in Pamela enough to ship her to Belgium in the first place; he seems to be overly possessive and makes her take an online French class instead of letting her attend a proper language school, while at the same time, he seems to avoid their awkward interactions by staying out most of the time.
Their relationship is only culminated after a bout of jealousy that stems from his male colleagues’ visit to their house and their obvious attraction to Pamela. But the fragile balance they are trying to maintain with shockers taking place left and right is put to the ultimate test when Pamela’s daughter reappears and Pamela has to choose if her priority is her daughter — or her new life.
For a debut feature, Alone at My Wedding tackles a difficult topic — not only that, it takes on the massive challenge of portraying and balancing out two culturally different worlds. For the most part, that portrayal is successful, but the film has a handful of issues that keep it from reaching its ultimate potential. The pace is at first very slow, and then speeds up and gets jumpy towards the end, with certain incoherent jumps in the story. The balance is almost restored by the outstanding performances of the cast, however – Alina Serban did an amazing job in her debut feature role, perfectly channeling the complexities and the fiery stubbornness of Pamela’s character, and compliments are due also to Tom Vermeir, who really delivered as the introverted, awkward Bruno.
While it could use some polishing in terms of narrative, and the ending could be less rushed and less forcibly structured, the film is more than worth the watch for its topic, on-point cast performances and all of the moments of humour that meld with realistic awkwardness, sadness and struggles. Ultimately, Alone at My Wedding is a brave, insightful project which showcases that Marta Bergman is one to watch out for.
Written by Sanja Struna
All photos © Frakas Productions