“Sevil”, Azerbaijani film of an opera by composer Fikret Amirov, based on a play by playwright Jafar Jabbarly, both Azerbaijanis.

A beautiful film, although I am not sure about how far the direct relevance of the story goes into today’s Norway.

I think you have to go pretty far back in history to find partying like this in the upper class here in contrast to poverty like this in the working class, and the character of the husband is also to me not very clearly portrayed, he is mean and that’s that, in a way, seen with my eyes, you don’t quite understand actually why he leaves Sevil. An Azerbaijani or another insider may see other things, more than me.

There are perhaps other scenes or characters too that may appear unrealistic or not so clearly drawn, to some eyes here, but this may also be due to different expressions in different culture, mimics, etc. 

Maybe this is in some ways also an old film, I don’t know, but the underlying fact of poverty is to me what gives the conflict much of its grave character. 

Cruel and stupid as it may seem, this is a fact almost unconceivable in its entirety if you grew up in affluence, like myself and many of my age (57) and downwards, here in Norway. 

Many, but still, not all, maybe not even the majority here, I am not sure.

Poverty still exists, even here, and it looks different today because culture, the way of life, has changed since the times depicted in this film. 

You think that a guy in T-shirt and sneakers, like yourself, someone who looks like you – also lives like you, but that may not be the case.

The experience of poverty exists here too, also among younger people, but it is hidden from public life, you meet the stories in private conversations. I guess stigma is one reason, the feeling of status in life and society is still very much connected with money in Norway, at least in Oslo and the south of Norway in general. 

Although the level of income in general is high, there are exceptions, and many figures, as I say, may hide real life and its content and problems.

Older people may have experienced poverty in their childhood, but today, for many or some of them, I am not sure, it’s often that what is left is the feeling of it and not the reality. 

Public rules and laws, however, of all kinds, are changing in Norway under Erna Solberg, and has been since she became prime minister, and this may put people in a difficult economic position again despite our country’s general wealth. The state, public administration, is used right now to save money, also at the cost of people’s wellbeing. To what extent this is happening is not always easy to understand or see, because the system and the thinking is changing in unfamiliar ways.

If you have seen or understood just a small bit of real poverty, the abyss of lacking food to feed your family and your children, you may have a notion of why a conflict or a story like “Sevil” is as serious as it is actually presented in the film and the opera. and probably in the theatrical play by Jafar Jabbarly, which forms the basis of the two others.

Poverty still exists in modern Norway, but the reasons for it today is more things like illness, physical or mental, or addiction and other problems, and also cultural conflicts coming out in politics – more than society’s total lack of money, but as I say, some old social patterns I believe are sometimes hidden behind a facade of normality, and I don’t know how much of this there is.

We have a social security system, but mentality in society has become harsh again in different ways, and makes things difficult in new and maybe also very old ways.

The point about cultural conflicts – is in my opinion an important one, but has not made its way quite clearly into public debate in Norway. The country is the richest in the world right now, I think, when it comes to money, and a huge bulk of it is actually in the possession of the state.

The play which forms the basis of this story was written in 1928, the opera in 1953, and the film is from 1970.

“Sevil” was written partly to contribute to women’s liberation and to make women discard their veils, seen as a remnant of old times’ tradition. Wikipedia says that the play was rather crass, and all later stagings a little less so.

I don’t understand Azeri, the language spoken or sung here, so I have to rely on my friends and Wikipedia etc for understanding this. A short synopsis: 

Sevil and Balash is a poor couple from the countryside who lives in Baku. Balash achieves a certain position in society and looks down on his wife because of her humble background. He wants to party and live with Dilber, a young singer.

At a point in the story a big party in Balash’s mansion is interrupted by Sevil, and as a revenge, I guess, or for some other reason, he throws his whole family out of the house.

Dilber, the singer, cheats Balash and steals his money, and Balash, in desperation, tries to shoot Sevil, but without killing her.

Sevil joins the revolutionary forces in some way, manages to get to Moscow to study and throws away her veil. In the end she is reunited with her daughter.

I am not an expert on Azerbaijan although I have Azerbaijani friends, but apparently the country has a long history of strong women, also in society. It is possible for a woman to be educated even as a Muslim mullah, a priest, and this tradition, according to Wikipedia, goes centuries back. 

Women were given the right to vote in 1919, in the short reign of the independent republic of Azerbaijan, before the Red Army invaded.

(This was not many years after the same thing happened in my own country. The legislation was passed here in bulks, from 1901 to 1913.)

Independent and strong women is also part of my own country’s history, and, of course, patriarchy, as a parallel fact.

In some other important ways too, Azerbaijan seems not so far from my own, today – figures like 78% female teachers, app. 51% female lecturers on university level, 65 % of medical staff being women and 40% of athletes, is probably not that far from the situation in Norway, although I haven’t checked the Norwegian figures for those things. 

Such figures may of course disguise details and habits in the culture itself and the way of living. 

20% business owners in Azerbaijan are women and 29% of civil servants, all according to English Wikipedia, showing, I think, a difference from here, although females obviously participate substantially also in these parts of society. 

It seems that the business world, here in Norway, is an environment where women’s lib still has actuality.

Azerbaijan is a part of the Turkic area, culturally speaking, and the language is very close to Turkish, almost like the Scandinavian languages are connected. From what I have met of people from Turkey etc, my impression is that modernity as we know it, and independence of thought, exists alongside tradition. Women have probably a lot more to say in Norwegian society in general, but education gives everyone a better possibilty of speaking wherever it exists, and I should be careful not to talk to much of things I don’t know very well. in foreign countries in general. We Norwegians have a tendency towards speaking of our own society’s supremacy, which, of course, comes partly from a general feeling of being the underdog.

The Soviet Union had on its programme the liberation of women, and I don’t know how this affected Azerbaijan and its cuture, concretely. The depiction of the poor in the film may to a Western eye seem a little in this vein, idealising, but I don’t know how much this is the case and how much the mimic of another culture is in play. I sometimes see films from other counries which I believe go down well in the country where it is made, but which to me seems somewhat stiff or “artificial” and a little unconvincing –  from the outside. But when you know a culture at least a little from the inside, it is a little easier to understand what is going on also in a film or an opera.

The story in some ways remind me of the American novel Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, not because the concrete stories are very similar, but because of the insistence on innocence, which in the novel goes to the point of – almost – being unrealistic to me.

But it works.

The singing in the opera, especially in the role of Sevil and some of the other women, and the songs in general, are beautiful. The music of Fikret Amirov is dramatic, but I still have to decifer the story-telling content of the “oriental” scales he uses, a little better, they are still a little unfamiliar to me.

I have to add some words to this, concerning gender.

It is not really easy to describe Norway as a society in a time when things change as fast as they do today. 

But talking about this film…first, the social system here today protects the woman in a divorce, or the same in a situation whenever a man leaves the mother after they had a baby, he has to pay her a monthly sum if she gets custody over the children, which is in itself very common. If he does not have money, the state will pay, I believe, but normally, if you are sick or disabled and on some sort of social money, the state will take this part of the money from the man, and give it directly to the mother, so he does not have a chance of nicking them or escaping the economical responsibility of having a baby.

This system was made in a time when for many, the old gender roles were still common – a majority of the households, I believe, were based on one income, the husband’s, and of course, there was a need for a safety system which took care of the mother in a divorce or a similar situation.

The country built the modern social system up from the 60s onwards.

However, today, most families live on the income of both woman and man in a relationship, economic independence for women are absolutely as common as for men, at least in my generation and downwards, (I am 58) and our legal rights are normally the same. Also, you do not have to be married to live together with or without kids, and I think at least most rules after the law have changed accordingly.

The old gender roles are not completely gone in everybody’s heads, but in general it is not at all popular to argue against gender equality, and I think almost all laws are changed so at least the woman, the mother, is protected, as I said, in a divorce, as long as she takes care of the kids. If the man does it, I believe he has the same economic rights.

The situation for a man after a divorce may be as difficult as for a woman sometimes.

A divorce is difficult anyway.

I have no statistics at hand, but there is a discussion going on about men’s legal rights in a divorce, concerning the kids, mostly, the criticism being that women are more easily believed in a court of law than a man when it comes to the situation in the relationship.

So even if this film is moving, the situation as it is described here would not be a normal one in my country today. Historically the balance between man and woman has of course more followed a familiar pattern of inequality, although there are also important historical exceptions to this rule, I think especially on the coast, the husband being at sea, fishing for considerable amounts of time, the wife having to cope at home both with farm and kids, and thus developing or keeping a mental independence which I feel in many situations is a benefit for us today.

Norway was also once a country of many sailors, and this has also created other family patterns and problems and I would guess an independence of women, even if, of course, in many cases a forced independence.

Of course, everything can also backfire.

Also times where there were legal problems connected with divorce are long gone in the whole of Scandinavia, at least. Social barriers may still exist, of course, but for most divorce is accepted as a fact of life, sad but sometimes unavoidable or even ok, if the marriage was difficult. 

Economy is of course an issue when you divorce, but with the change in work life in modern times this may as much hit the man as the woman in this situation. In my mother’s generation (she was born in 1929) this was an obvious issue, it was difficult to divorce, especially for a woman, because of money, and as far back as the 30s, I believe it was normally expected that a woman stopped working when she married. As many other places.

Business life in Norway seems to be a more conservative part of life when it comes to gender, but I don’t know enough to say too much.

Attitudes and habits often last longer than the necessity that made them, so of course the picture is mixed. Some families are very traditional and old-fashioned, and I would say many are not there at all. It is normal for a young husband to take part in everything practical concerning the kids, including nappies and cooking, but I would add that some women monopolise the ideas of the upbringing of kids in a family, making it difficult for the husband to take part other than practical.

This of course also creates a different starting point for discussing these issues, different situations in different families make arguments sometimes mean the opposite, spot on some places and largely irrelevant in others.

I would never argue very hard against taking away benefits like this in a rich country like ours, and certainly not argue in favour of limiting women’s rights in general, but men’s rights has actually become an issue in certain connections. When it comes to attitude we do not seem quite finished with women’s lib, lack of self-consciousness etc are still trouble for many women, but if you check closely sometimes being a tough guy also covers up real weakness or even wounds.

I hope for ok attitudes to develop or to be conserved, in many directions.