Krusha e Madhe is the village where one of the most horrible massacres took place during the Kosovo war in 1999: 226 civilians were killed; 46 of the bodies have yet to be found. The assumptions are that they were cremated or dumped in the Drini i Bardhe river.
The women who fled the war, upon returning to their village, found everything burned and were left alone after having lost their husbands, with families to support and houses to rebuild starting from scratch, in extreme poverty. They only had the land, which they had never worked as this was considered a man’s work.
It was then that they decided to form a cooperative to sell the products they obtained from their fields. The peppers grew in the fields that had been watered with the sweat of their husbands and now with their own, to save a village from the imposed sentence of disappearance.
Fahrije Hoti is one of those women and takes center stage in Hive, Kosovo’s entry for upcoming Oscars. Directed and written by Blerta Basholli, this year Sundance hit, where it won Audience Award, Directing Award, and World Cinema Grand Jury Prize, offers a look to the day to day of this woman (played by Yllka Gashi) as she awaits the return of her missing husband, portraying the collateral damage of war.
Fahrije must oversee her family: taking care of her invalid father-in-law, ensuring the education of her children (a rebellious young girl who does not respect her mother’s decisions and a young boy who tries to understand what is happening around him) and find a way to get money to support them all.
This is a clearly patriarchal society in which women are relegated to housework while men are the ones who work outside. However, these women cannot just sit and wait for news from their husbands. That is why they organize, albeit with fear, as they are constantly judged by people from the village. Especially Fahrije, who gets a driver’s license and a car to work in the city, is frowned upon. Even her father-in-law complains to her for daring so much: “Whatever you do affects the whole family, be it for better or for worse,” he says. “You have to know your place in this family,” he adds.
Everyone here demands something or is required for something: some women in the organization want more money than they can be given; the leader of the organization is interested in securing funds and assistance; Fahrije just wants to work and pressures them to ask for permission to their fathers or brothers-in-law to help her with the ajvar business and her father-in-law is pressured to have a blood test done to facilitate the tracking process of his son. In part, this is a story of how much you are willing to give and sacrifice amid a crisis. Certainly, everyone must commit to the cause, and we see Fahrije at the center of that whirlwind trying to keep her sanity.
Fahrije’s situation is desperate and Basholli expertly leads us through her conflict, making us feel empathy and admiration instead of pity. The strength of her spirit is contagious and soon both the women of the village and her family are integrating into the ajvar business, although they never stop facing hostility from the men who decisively threaten their safety and dignity. Basholli refuses to reduce her protagonist to the role of victim, even if she is, and succeeds on that.
This is a story that could be told more grimly (and even though the opening is exactly that), Basholli chooses a quiet and compassionate approach on both a visual and narrative level, managing to find hope amid devastation. The director leads us through Fahrije’s every breath as she faces a new day, every invisible tear as she awaits the return of her husband, whom, somehow, we also await. What kind of man is this? Will he be proud of his wife when he knows what she has been doing? Will he judge her like others? We cannot help but hope for the best.
There are many compelling moments here and each one is deeply felt in Gashi’s performance, who manages to be stoic and immovable while being vulnerable at the same time. But it is Basholli’s approach that deserves the highest praise for treating this subject in the right way and making one of the best films of the year. One the Academy should take note of.
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