You know that sense of just not feeling quite right? People around you start noticing you are a bit off. Friends and family members start offering advice, recommend professionals; and before you know it, you have a regime of “experts” trying to diagnose and pin down the cause of your distress. This is the zone inhabited by director Antoneta Kastrati’s Zana. Lume (exceptionally played by Adriana Matoshi) is a woman upon which a number of pressures fall—gender expectations, family expectations, and Kosovan history.
Zana can easily be compared to Rosemary’s Baby in terms of its psycho/body horror tropes involving childbirth; and sure, childbirth is a major theme in Zana. There is, however, an additional thematic layer to Zana—the horrors of a society and its history as reflected upon an individual. One is reminded of Blue Velvet in this regard. Blue Velvet used a severed ear as a device for exploring the psychopathologies of American suburbanites in the Regan 80s. Zana uses Lume’s discovery of a severed cow head as the starting point for an exploration into the massacres of civilians committed in Kosovo in the 90s.
The gentle pastoral setting—beautifully captured by Kastrati—belies the internal angst felt by Lume. Her meddling mother-in-law (Fatmire Sahiti) and husband (Astrit Kabashi) pressure her to produce a child for them. Lume is passed along like a baton from a gynecologist that prescribes fertility medications, to a healer that prescribes an animal sacrifice, to a televangelist that confidently declares that Lume is possessed by a shapeshifting spirit. In addition to this pressure to get pregnant, Lume’s mother-in-law invites other women to the house as potential second wives for her son. All this is enough to make anyone lose their minds.
Lume is a vector for the pressures faced by women in their societies and during times of war. Her nightmares and understandable misgivings about getting pregnant are attributed to her diagnosis—a spirit possessing her.
Kastrati does a great job of making objects metaphors for the themes explored in Zana. Kastrati repeatedly contrasts life with death. The constant talk of fertility and birthing new life are concretized in the form of chicken eggs. As quickly as we see chicken eggs, we see a bullet casing in the soil. It is the old Freudian combination of drives, life and death, Eros and Thanatos. Kastrati is signaling that death and horror are always lurking in the background, in Kosovo’s history, they are underneath it all, buried in the soil, they are constants beyond life.
Zana does what all great art does: it attempts to put into artistic language the horrific, the grotesque, that historical reality that seemingly cannot be made aesthetic, but must be, so that we can begin to comprehend it. I insist that you try and seek out Zana. It must be experienced as a work of art, and as a potential starting point for viewers to investigate Kosovo’s history within the larger Balkan Civil War of the 90s.
There are several references in Zana to technology—mobile phones, YouTube, and video recordings. A recording of a wedding plays a pivotal role in the plot. The major point to remember; however, is that behind technology’s contribution to efficiency, to escapism, there are other realities—history’s brutality and a death drive embedded into our psyches. It would make anyone think twice about bringing a new life into this world.
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