Film Review: Zana
a personal film about collective matters
Three women. One had the vision for a story (Antoneta Kastrati). Another had the means to realize it visually (Sevdije Kastrati). The third one had the dedication and the skills to bring it to life masterfully and naturally (Adriana Matoshi). The result: Zana, a stunning and moving drama about post-war trauma and the healing process, told in a beautiful, simple and engaging way.
Zana is a collaboration of Crossing Bridges Films, On Film Production and Alief, written and directed by Antoneta Kastrati for whom this is her debut feature film. It is also the sixth feature film of cinematographer Sevdije Kastrati who is the first Kosovar woman to hold this title and has won several awards for her work. Adriana Matoshi plays the role of a woman from Kosovo who is still suffering the devastating effects of war and is strugglig to find peace where only terror prevails. The film was chosen to represent Kosovo at the 92nd edition of the Academy Awards in the category of Best Foreign Feature but it was not nominated. It holds a 9.1/10 score at the IMDb. Synergetic Distributions have purchased the screening rights for North America, which proves that there is a large audience interested in such dramas coming from foreign countries.
Zana is the touching story of Lume who lost her only child, her daughter Zana, during the war and is suffering from night terrors. She is pressurised by her family and social environment to have another child while at the same time she is struggling to overcome the pain and continue her life in peace with herself. The film opens up a space for taboo issues to come to the foreground - mental health, abortion, contemporary mysticism, the patriarchal system which doesn’t allow women space of their own, and the brutality of war. It is a collection of haunting images, inspired by the director’s own personal experiences and memories of the trauma of the war which cost her her mother and one of her two sisters. It results in a psychological drama which carries the potential to capture the devastating effects of war on a personal and collective level. In her interview for Cineuropa in September 2019, the director suggested that ‘as a community, we have not processed any of the traumas in depth’. With this project, she claims to have tried to offer the public a visual experience of this trauma, although the film itself is created in such a way that it can speak to anyone who has lived a similar trauma. It is indeed an impressive debut feature film.
What adds authenticity and clarity to the film is the non-intrusive camera work of Sevdije Kastrati [Open Door, 2019; Cold November, 2018; The Marriage, 2017]. I would suggest that this is perhaps her most outstanding work, because it is her most personal work and thus closer to her than any of her previous projects. Her passion for developing the atmosphere of each scene into concrete images – be it a moment of tension or terror, or a moment of mourning or despair, as well as a moment of bliss or a tender smile – becomes evident from the way she takes us from one emotional state to the next gently, without allowing anything to interfere between the spectator and the development of the story. Her camera is lurking around from the very first moment and it pulls us by the hand – almost like in a dance – to show us what’s hiding behind the next turn: a green landscape like the one from the childhood of the Kastrati sisters, a night full of terrors, a cold winter night or a warm afternoon in the fields which soon turns into the most terrifying and tragic reality of the story that we’re following.
Dream and reality take turns frequently; colors and light are the main tools the cinematographer uses to help the spectators follow the story. The most characteristic example is the moment when we move from the scene where Lume is saying goodbye to her husband Ilir who is leaving for work on a cold winter evening to the scene where we see her fetching water from a pit for family and relatives who are working around the field in this warm summer afternoon. There we see a little girl, her daughter Zana, running and laughing, moments before the tragedy happens yet again. It becomes clear we have moved from the reality into Lume’s psychology, in one of her nightmares like the ones we’ve watched so far. And this scene prepares us for the final moments of the film, a sequence which is Lume’s path towards the peace with herself. It is the most touching and terrible image of the film. Lume in a figurative way finally finds peace in her daughter’s arms – and there we finally manage to get a glimpse of her daughter’s face for the first time, mother and daughter embracing each other in an eternal state of bliss; a dignified place for them both to rest in peace.
Adriana Matoshi is unforgettable in her portrayal of Lume. She creates her tragic character with precise persuasion, and adds a lot to the visual aspect of the film through her acting which unforcefully harmonizes the figures of the suffering mother, the desperate, silenced woman, and the traumatized human; these all create a complete character we can get to know and sympathise with. A set of meaningful frames capture her in her most tragic, frightening, violent and lonely moments, and allow her to create a dazzling range of feelings which she conveys to the spectator with a perfect simplicity. The tragic image of Lume is also accompanied by some lighter instances giving her a more humane quality. With three awards for Best Actress in 2018 and 2019, Matoshi proves once again her rich talent for such dramas.
Zana is first and foremost an exemplary film for anyone interested in visual storytelling and it shows the power of the art of film to give voice to people, feelings and subject matters that usually remain silenced.