Director – Blerta Basholli – 2021 – Kosovo – Cert. 15 – 84m
A woman whose husband went missing during the war encounters prejudice when she starts a small business to support herself and her family – out in cinemas on Friday, March 18th
Kosovan woman Fahrije (Yllka Gashi) lives with her teenage daughter and younger son and her father-in-law Haxhiu (Çun Lajçi). Her absent husband disappeared during the war and is likely dead, but no-one knows for certain and she keeps looking whenever more graves are discovered, often with clothes of the victims rather than their bodies. So far she has been unable to identify him, something of an emotional nightmare. She still tends his beehives, but occasionally gets stung and wonders how he managed to avoid that. Answer: he had a way with bees that she doesn’t.
However, life must go on and in the absence of a male breadwinner, she must provide income to feed herself, her kids and her father-in-law. She meets with other women in the village, some of whom are presumably in the same situation as she, and decides to set up a food business, making and selling jars of Avjar (roasted red pepper spread). The distribution side of this is be impossible without a car, so on the advice of a local women’s collective she tests for a driver’s licence and they find her a workable auto.
No sooner has she got wheels, however, than many of the local men start talking about her behind her back, effectively slut-shaming her for claiming her independence, standing on her own two feet and supporting herself without the aid of a man. Not all men; a local trader helps her out by donating initial supplies of peppers, although it later turns out that his motives are less than pure. The village is a conservative place and the opposition is fierce. Never mind that she’s not up to anything in the slightest bit sexual: she’s stepping outside the confines of accepted gender stereotypes and, for that reason, must be a slut.
Basholli’s slow-moving drama makes a strong statement by sheer bloody-mindedness, showing a woman determined to succeed in the face of bigoted opposition. Her family are scarcely any help, her father persistently warning her that “anything you do affects us all” and her daughter buying into the patriarchal myths and wishing her mother wouldn’t keep stepping out of line. The other women of her generation are more supportive, however, and this helps keep her going.
Gashi delivers a striking, grounded performance that really makes the audience feel the weight on her shoulders in terms of her continuing struggle with loss as she searches for her husband, her determination to do right by and look after her family without him and the unnecessary opposition and prejudice she faces as she tries to do what she must. The missing persons from the war may relate very specifically to Kosovo, but the misogyny she experiences is far more widespread than that and may well help the film reach a much wider international audience many of whom may feel some resonance with their own lives. On one level, it’s a simple, little film but on another entirely it packs something of an emotional wallop.
Hive is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, March 18th.