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COTTBUS 2018

Review: The Delegation

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- Bujar Alimani’s third feature tells the story of a universal human character and the construction of oppression through focusing on the margins of European history

Review: The Delegation

World-premiering in the International Competition section of the 34th Warsaw Film Festival, the Albanian-French-Greek-Kosovar co-production The Delegation sets up a story from the margins of European history to tell the tale of a universal human character and the construction of oppression. 

Albanian filmmaker Bujar Alimani, who has previously mostly made short films, won the Cineuropa Award with his first feature, Amnesty [+see also:
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trailer
interview: Bujar Alimani
film profile
]
, in 2011, a love story set in a prison, while his second feature, Chromium [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Bujar Alimani
film profile
]
, tells a coming-of-age story against the backdrop of a dysfunctional family. In both of these films, it seems that Alimani explored the political and social realities of Albania, such as the prison system, or the poverty-stricken margins of society, almost tentatively, through the medium of an intimate story. In contrast, The Delegation tackles the political history of the country head on, casting it as the protagonist of the movie, while the central dramatic elements are still carried by the intricacies of human behaviour.

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It is 1990 in Albania, and the country seems to be heading increasingly towards democratisation, but the old communist regime is still attempting to hold onto its power. Leo, a professor and political prisoner, is taken out of his cell and taken to a barber’s shop. Without any explanation, the prison security guards and officials shove him into a car and drive away. Gradually, it becomes clear that this is not about an execution or even a transferral. The men are taking him to Tirana, where he is supposed to testify in favour of the authorities in front of a representative of the European political institutions who is in town. Before that can happen, however, everything goes wrong. 

Alimani paints the portrait of a country with a society and a political system in which things obviously aren’t working any more (if they ever did). The task of bringing a political prisoner to testify in favour of the same regime that imprisoned him seems a ludicrous and arrogant endeavour in itself, but it is made difficult, if not impossible, by something completely different – the unreliability of the car, the remoteness of rural Albania, the defective communication technologies used by the government offices, and also by the delusional, pompous officials, who sometimes exhibit more than a hint of sadism towards those less powerful than themselves. Alimani makes it clear that no system is oppressive in itself: it is made oppressive by people who take advantage of it in order to take out their hatred and frustrations on others. 

The Delegation maintains a serious tone throughout, although it could also work very well as a dark, absurdist comedy as it depicts how the officials try to uphold a system that is obviously in the process of falling apart. Some parts are more convincing than others, but the story of the film bears out the screenwriters’ saying that every plot is only as good as its villain. Excellently played by Xhevdet Ferri, Asllan, the enforcer of the outgoing regime, makes it clear that sexism, racism and hatred in all their forms will seek out an opportunity to rear their heads, regardless of the situation – it is putting them in a position of power that is dangerous.

The Delegation was produced by Albanian outfit Art Film shpk.

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