[…] The power of the film, directed and written by Blerta Basholli, lies within this juxtaposition of sound and expression wound tight with astute dramaturgical subtlety.
[…] The camera (Alexander Bloom) tightly focuses in on this sacred industry: jars wiped clean, stacked and venerated. Symbols of their labour, knowledge, solidarity and freedom.
[…] I am reminded of Simone De Beauvoir’s question in «Le Deuxième Sexe»: how have women historically become the oppressed “Other” when they have never been the minority?
Text: Jodie McNeilly
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Fahrije (Yllka Gashi) unzips white body bags on the back of a United Nations truck looking for the remains of her husband, missing since the Kosovo conflict of 1998-1999. The absence of his presence is a painful reminder of the mass genocide perpetrated upon the Ethnic Albanians by the Serbian forces of Milošević’s Regime. Hive is not a war film. In fact, the details of the true atrocities form an unnerving silence, a lacuna of lost information that one scrambles for like the wives, mothers and sisters searching for their men and boys who went missing in the back of trucks, at the bottom of rivers, or found buried in shallow mass graves. In the hollows of this silence, the nauseating buzz of bees is amplified as Fahrije scrapes the honeycomb from the hives; we sense the fear, hate, rage and sadness hovering just beyond the surface of her solemnity. The power of the film, directed and written by Blerta Basholli, lies within this juxtaposition of sound and expression wound tight with astute dramaturgical subtlety.
Hive is about the women of this small Kosovo village who are the untold victims of not only war but the patriarchal system that keeps them from establishing financial independence outside of the home (only 12.6% of women have a job in 2021). No sooner than they are saved by NATO forces from theft, rape and murder they are left to the mercy of the men who survive. They wash, feed, clean – disappearing behind the curtains and closed doors of their domestic prisons. We understand the intentions of the film when Fahrije leaves a public rally at the precise moment we hear over a loudspeaker: «We cannot be free if we don’t know the fate of our missing men». This is not true. Freedom is not found in the men returning, but in a process of self-reliant construction in this post war economy.
Survival trumps any sentiment for cultural duty. Fahrije gets her driver’s license to make a better life for her two children and father-in-law Haxhi (Çun Lajçi), who is a reasonable man torn between the expectations of his gender and his daughter-in-law’s plans. Her new-found mobility attracts scorn, violence and sexual assault from the local men, but enables the possibility to make a life that is hers. She takes the initiative to start a small business cooking ajvar for a supermarket in town. These actions become the catalyst for mobilising the other village women. Their “feminist” uprising is as home grown and contained as the red peppered sauce that is poured and sealed in jars. The camera (Alexander Bloom) tightly focuses in on this sacred industry: jars wiped clean, stacked and venerated. Symbols of their labour, knowledge, solidarity and freedom.
I am reminded of Simone De Beauvoir’s question in Le Deuxième Sexe: how have women historically become the oppressed “Other” when they have never been the minority? In this small village emptied of its men, the women are certainly not in the minority, but are still prevented from making their lives meaningful beyond the family. I should be forgiven for the datedness of these references to De Beauvoir given the archaic position of women in Kosovo as being still regarded, for the most part, as the “Second Sex” in 2021, and reflect further upon her point that «women’s actions have never been more than symbolic agitation; they have won only what men have been willing to concede to them; they have taken nothing; they have received». In Hive, we view the women’s transcendence from the category of “mother-whore” as purely mercantile. The male grocery store manager sees good “business” and overlooks this dyadic construct to ensure an authentic product. It is an instance of a commercial agenda having a positive impact on lives but stresses the problem raised by De Beauvoir: to what extent are these gains in reality “taken”?
Together the women of the village join in a collaborative squeezing, mincing, stirring and pouring. In this, their confederacy of sauce, they share stories, give advice, fill their days of grief, trauma and “not knowing” with self-created purpose. I can’t help wondering, during these scenes where the women look empowered, what their immediate past and indeed the world would look like if women ran it.
The village in summer is idyllic. An abundance of green swamps a back-drop of rocky, undulating hills dotted with stand-alone vernacular houses of red roofs and white stucco. The holiday-like pace and the surrounding environment’s beauty masks the devastation of war. All we see beyond the exhumation efforts of the government and the UN’s white body bags is a truck half submerged in the river – the type of truck that carried men and boys to their death. The family use this as a surrogate site to inter his body as «there is no place» to visit. Beyond this, the camera hardly leaves the activities or reveries of Fahrije, pursued to the very end with a supportive presence, as unclimactic as real life often is.
Gashi is sensational. Exuding without flourish an intelligence, strength and directness of character that pays homage to the real Fahrije. The supporting cast are also excellent in permitting us to understand the significance of this story from a small village. As a relatively new feature film writer and director Basholli produces a fine and powerful work more than deserving of its accolades. She reminds us of the great losses from this recent war (somewhat elided by other global conflicts) while pragmatically advocating, with an example par excellence, for a world where Kosovar women can work, own property and create lives beyond the sacristy of family and oppressive community beliefs.
Hive | Film | Blerta Basholli | HR-CH 2021 | 84’ | Zurich Film Festival 2021
Audience Award, Directing Award, World Cinema Grand Jury Prize at Sundance Film Festival 2021
First published: November 19, 2021