Film review: Raw and real story of a Kosovan wife
Understated yet quietly rebellious best describes the opening film for this year’s Central and Eastern European film festival, CinEast, which starts on Thursday.
The film – Hive - is set in the Kosovan town of Krusha, the site of a 1999 massacre that saw 240 dead or missing, and many of the scenes takes place within the narrow, battered streets and the run-down houses that remain standing.
Several years after the massacre, many wives do not know the fates of their husbands, including the central character Fahrije, who is left managing the house and looking after her two growing children. She shops and cooks, collects honey from her hives to sell in the local market, but she also fixes taps and washes her wheelchair-bound father-in-law, Haxhi.
In the opening scene, Fahrije searches body bags in a medical tent, in the hope of finding her missing husband.
But the film is not a quest to discover the fate of her husband, it is rather a slowly unwinding true-life tale of how the stoic Fahrije tries to move forward, facing stiff opposition with composure.
The cinematography is almost fly-on-the-wall documentary, with the people and locations the main content. Like the subtle and understated acting, there are no tinted lenses or overtly artistic camera angles.
This feels raw and real, because it is in fact a true story, and the audience is treated to some footage of the real Fahrije at the end, and told that she eventually employed some 50 local women with missing husbands.
The scenery is simple, from the local river - also a site of the massacre - with a half-submerged truck, to the narrow streets and decaying houses. Viewers get a sense of what real life was like in this Kosovan town.
There are also well-timed silences in the film, when the characters have nothing to say, either from the numbness of grief, or in response to the prejudice they face.
The setting is a patriarchal society where independent women who get their driver’s licence and start working are seen as breaking with tradition and the source of much village gossip.
Albanian actress Yllka Gashi plays the lead role almost expressionlessly, which conveys the emotional state of this mother who has suffered so much.
Viewers may even want Fahrije to lose her temper, but her calm responses give her a sense of dignity and triumph in a depressing scenario.
Fahrije sets up a small business making home-made ajvar - a roasted pepper condiment - that she jars and sells via a small city supermarket. She encounters opposition from men – stones thrown at her car and jars of her produce smashed – but also from some women at first. But slowly, the women start to join forces, bringing their own ajvar supplies, and later joining her in preparing the peppers.
Eventually even her father-in-law supports her, labelling jars, and agreeing to take a DNA test that might reveal if the authorities have found the remains of his son - her husband.
Triple winner at Sundance Awards
The film was a triple winner at this year’s Sundance awards, gaining the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize, the Audience Award and the Directing Award.
It will be screened at the CinEast Film Festival at 19.00 on Thursday 7 October and Saturday 9 October at Neimënster Cultural Centre. Basholli will also be taking part in a debate “Quiet Female Rebellion” on Saturday 9 October.