Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Blerta Basholli
Screenwriter: Blerta Basholli
Cast: Yllka Gashi, Cun Lajci, Kumrije Hoxha, Kaona Sylejmani, Mal Noah Safciu, Aurita Agushi, Adriana Matoshi
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/26/21
Opens: November 5 at New York’s Film Forum
When a film has no music in the soundtrack, this means that the director, the crew and the performers realize that the material is so solid that it needs no artificial amplification. You’ve got to love that, as did the folks at the Sundance Festival which awarded “Hive” (Zgjoi in Albanian) all major prizes—grand jury, audience, and directing. This is a record: the first time any Sundance feature captured all three.
Based on a true story of female empowerment and entrepreneurship, the action takes place in the tiny, socially conservative town of Krushë e Madhe in Western Kosovo, focusing on the raw drive of Fahrije (Yllka Gashi), whose life has been overturned by not knowing the fate of her missing husband who has been lost in a war. The action takes place years after the end of the Kosovo War, an armed conflict that started February 28, 1998 and lasted until June 11 1999, pitting Serbia and Montenegro, which controlled Kosovo before the war, against the Kosovo Liberation Army which fought to break away. This became one of the few wars that saw NATO intervening with air strikes, which succeeded in forcing the withdrawal from Kosovo of its hitherto occupiers.
The conflict in miniature takes place within Fahrije’s household and among the people of the tiny town, folks unused to women bucking their rightful place in the home, creating a new business, and expanding by selling their product in a big city supermarket. Having served as a beekeeper, Fahrije sees that the honey is not enough to support her family, which includes her father-in-law (Cun Lajci) a teen daughter about to become “a woman,” and a younger son. She gets together with other women to form a mini-kibbutz, if you will, using simple tools to create a hot pepper stew by taking the raw product, mincing, and bottling it with the goal of selling the processed peppers en masse to a supermarket. She is called a whore by a few people in the town who believe that a war widow should not try to make it on her own. But she is determined enough to put the inertia of widowhood behind her. She learns to drive, faces the breaking of her car window by some men, even fends off a rape attempt by the guy from whom she buys the peppers, who may be willing to forgive her monetary debt by taking it out in trade.
With the camaraderie of a group of women motivated further by the older Naza (Kumrije Hoxha), the group takes time out to dance and to go beyond the sadness of identifying the men and women in body bags and later called to examine the clothing and watches of the people who are now considered to be dead.
Blerta Baholli in 2011 helmed the fifteen-minute “Lena dhe Unë,” about two immigrants to America who agree to go along with the demands of their parents to stick to the old traditions but, like Fahrije decide to do things their way. “Hive” is her debut full-length feature. Suddenly the world of serious cinephiles who did not already receive the grade of A in high-school geography, will add Kosovo to their vocabularies, a place that, almost surprisingly because of opposition from Russian and Serbia, led the U.S. under President George Bush to recognize their independence because it would help to “bring peace to the Balkans.” Good luck to the area that sparked World War One.
84 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – A-
Overall – B+