Are there any true winners in war? The answer to that question is fairly obvious. Then there’s the question of who bears the heaviest burden after a war? That question is a bit more complicated. Director Blerta Basholli’s full-length directorial debut, Hive, reminds us that it is often women who must pick up the pieces of their shattered societies often while still dealing with their own personal traumas.
Hive is based on a true story. It recounts the life of Fahrije Hoti (Yllka Gashi). Fahrije is a Kosovan woman who when we first meet her is searching through body bags, wondering if any contain the human remains of her husband. In essence, she is a woman searching for any faint etchings left behind by a life erased by conflict.
Fahrije’s village is decimated by the Balkan conflict. Her village is mostly comprised of children, widowed women, and old men. The widows’ psyches are so shattered that some prefer the relief gained by being informed that their husbands’ remains were found so as to extinguish any faint false hope they still carry. Fahrije, like all the other widows, has to deal with her children, her infirm father-in-law, finding a revenue source, governmental authorities charged with finding the body of her husband, and oh yes, her own trauma. Fahrije takes up her husband’s vocation—beekeeping. She tries selling her honey at the market, but sales are minimal. Fahrije and a group of widows decide to make homemade ajvar (a traditional red pepper spread) and sell it to a supermarket in the capital city of Pristina. The profits would be shared amongst the widows.
The widows go to work on the plan. But they are met with obstacles. One of them has to drive to Pristina to make a sales pitch to a supermarket owner. Fahrije decides to take driving lessons. Her village still maintains traditional values and gender roles. Her driving is considered improper. Gossip and acts of violence are directed toward Fahrije. She is caught between tradition and independence. She decides that maintaining tradition will not help her family and the other widows who help make the ajvar. Yllka Gashi is exceptional in her role.
Her performance of Fahrije is all steely determination and quiet perseverance. Yet, we know Fahrije’s personal traumas have not been addressed, that they have not healed—it is unlikely they ever will. She, however, has no time to focus on herself. Until, of course, Fahrije is forced to confront the trauma directly. Gashi’s performance captures Fahrije’s many layers in a subtle manner. This subtlety, however, is far from static. In Gashi we get to witness an actor in full command of her character and her craft. The rest of the cast is also spectacular. Several of the actors in Hive also appeared in another Kosovan film—the exceptional Zana, which I reviewed for this site.
Hive marvelously succeeds on two levels. It works on the level of a film focused on the trauma faced by those exposed to the horrors of war and it works as a commentary on women caught in a patriarchal society. Everywhere Fahrije turns—the owner of the supermarket, the old men at the café, the vendor who sells peppers—there is a male gatekeeper making her journey all the more difficult. Quite often, movies that deal with war and patriarchy handle these topics rather clumsily. Hive and Zana give ample evidence that Kosovan directors and actors are at the forefront of dealing with such topics in their dramas.
There is something truly exciting happening in Kosovan film. The directing and acting talent are top-notch. As critics and film consumers, we would be foolish not to pay attention. Kosovo may be in the beginning of a cinematic golden age.
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