Film review, 'Hive' by Fjoralba Miraka
The woman’s film dominated Kosovan cinema in 2021. Blerta Basholli’s Hive, Norika Sefa’s Looking for Venera, Kaltrina Krasniqi’s Vera Andrron Detin, and Luana Bajrami’s The Hill Where Lionesses Roar are interesting stories about women of different backgrounds, ages, and perspectives, and create an excellent example of the diversity that film culture needs. In this edition of the Gazette, I will focus on Hive which is the Kosovan entry for the category of Best Feature Film at the 94th Academy Awards.
To be a good filmmaker, you need two attributes: passion about the subject matter you want to explore in your work, and vision about how you want to communicate this to the public. With her first feature film Hive, Blerta Basholli shows elegantly and gracefully that she has them both. I truly think she may be considered as part of what Ray Lobo called ‘the beginning of a golden age in Kosovan cinema.’ She proves to be radical, consistent, and diligent in her ways, and she’s been rewarded with 17 awards and 12 nominations, including the ‘Grand Jury Award’, the ‘Directing Award’, and the ‘Audience Award’ in the World Cinema category at Sundance Film Festival - the first film to ever win all three major awards in the festival’s history.
Hive focuses on the social trauma of Kosovo by putting under the microscope the story of a woman who carries her pain with dignity and perseverance, who is confronted with cultural barriers, limitations and obstacles that are not rare among women, and who eventually overcomes all difficulties with confidence and determination. In her battle for survival and independence, she’s surrounded by a group of women who show us what women can achieve when they act in solidarity. Among them, Adriana Matoshi gives a warm-hearted performance in her limited role as Lume, showing that her acting skills both in main roles as well as in secondary roles are equally refined.
There are very few films in which every frame and every moment, every gesture and every scene carries so much emotion and meaning. And it is even rarer to find films that can simultaneously address and treat different subject matters and do so on a satisfactory level. In this case, the story opens up to address themes such as the personal trauma as part of the bigger social trauma, being a woman in a patriarchal society, the intertwining of the social categories of class and sex, the single-parent family, the transition from girlhood to womanhood with the first menstrual cycle, the impact of the absence of a father figure on the life of teenagers.
The most admirable element of the film, though, is the way it brings together two images of womanhood: the first one is an image that derives from the perceptions of society that have been solidified through time (woman as the second sex), and the other is an image that in fact puts a question mark over those perceptions. On the one hand, there’s the woman as an adolescent who smokes in secret (and by the looks of it Yllka Gashi is a nonsmoker, the cigarette looks strange in her hand), who lowers her head when the adults talk to her or when she responds to them, and who renounces her decisions and submits to the orders of the elderly. On the other hand, there’s the woman as a whole individual with her own desires and ambitions, her own concerns and challenges; as someone who goes against prejudice and narrow-mindedness, as someone strong enough to fight amorality and injustice, with symbolic gestures: she pushes away the man who sexually harasses her, she throws stones at the café of the elderly men, a symbolic space for the patriarchal order. Showing these two images side by side attests to the fabricated nature of the first and the necessity to let the second one thrive.
Yllka Gashi as Fahrije
Yllka Gashi’s acting also urges us to reconsider the gender norms and stereotypes precisely because she brings to life something that happens everywhere behind closed doors yet is still an unspoken truth. But Basholli and Gashi have spoken openly and clearly about it. Fahrije is an invisible heroine, until the moment a capable storyteller like Blerta Basholli gives her voice to speak with and a face for us all to look at and know. Like an architect, she determines the time and the way how these two images will interlink so that they can have the most immediate effect to the audience. She brings the woman’s body to the front, and shows us that it is a pained body, tired from the incessant work, and treated with violence and disrespect.
A key scene in the film is the one in which Fahrije, the only woman in a classroom full of men, sits her exam for a driving licence. I instantly thought to myself that this is not an uncommon image when it comes to women who have paved the way to emancipation in one way or another. It brought to my mind similar scenes from other films: it was Keira Knightley in The Imitation Game (2014) in the role of Joan Clarke, and Janelle Monae in Hidden Figures (2016) in the role of Mary Jackson. They too are both in a classroom full of men, one taking a hard exam, the other studying in a field dominated by men respectively. Similarly, Yllka Gashi in Hive is a woman who dares to raise her body against all burdens and becomes an agent of change who challenges us to review our perceptions of gender roles. It is little moments like this that give the film an explosive essence, raging, like an awakening.
The film also helps the advanced understanding of the level in which the woman and her work have been devalued in the context of war and post-war. It also underlines the urgent need for individuals to form coalitions and act towards an objective to bring about changes to the status-quo. And if women like Emine Vitija Brahimi and Ibadete Canolli-Kaçiu have contributed to the war front, Hive manifests that other women like Fahrije Hoti have made their own contributions to the inner fronts of society, within the net of the family unit, as well as the whole community. The film unfolds the story of Fahrije in a meticulous way, and in doing so, it sheds light on the fact that women have been excluded from the discourse around the war and post-war period. In a way, it builds a kind of statue for her and saves women from the usual representations as victims during times of war – here, she is a heroine and we’ve all witnessed it; we can never turn our back to it.
You can read an Albanian language version of this review at: https://sbunker.net/botime/91180/zgjoi-historia-e-nje-heroine/