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SUNDANCE 2021 World Cinema Dramatic Competition

Review: Hive

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- Kosovar director Blerta Basholli's first feature tells the inspiring real-life story of a group of women, and their strength, perseverance and ingenuity

Review: Hive
Yllka Gashi in Hive

Based on true events, Kosovar director Blerta Basholli's first feature, Hive [+see also:
trailer
interview: Blerta Basholli
film profile
]
, which has just world-premiered in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at the Sundance Film Festival, tells the story of a lady in a small town who faces prejudice and uncertainty as she inspires the women in her community to take control of their own fate.

Fahrije (Yllka Gashi, a true discovery in her first feature-film role) is a woman in her thirties whose husband, along with many other men from the village of Krushë e Madhe (or Velika Kruša in Serbian), died – or went missing – in a massacre during the Kosovo War in 1999. She lives with her father-in-law, Haxhi (Çun Lajçi), a young son and a teenage daughter.

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Driving to work in Prishtina and tending to her husband Agim's bees, she is a rare employed woman in the deeply patriarchal rural areas of Kosovo. When women from the village are informed that an NGO is willing to pay for their driving lessons so that it is easier for them to find jobs, they are on the fence about it. One of them informs Fahrije about the gossip that her "emancipated" way of life has been generating. A woman sitting in a cafe or driving a car brings shame to the family, and even Fahrije's own daughter calls her a whore in a particularly painful scene. No need to elaborate on how Haxhi feels about it, then.

But Fahrije will not let this stop her, and she assembles the women to make ajvar, a popular Balkan roast-pepper condiment, at her house. A supermarket is interested in selling it, and so they start producing dozens of jars. But the first batch is ruined, as someone breaks into the house and destroys it. So Fahrije is forced to fight not only poverty and uncertainty (as she is not even able to start grieving until Agim's remains are found), but also centuries of Balkan patriarchy.

Basholli frames the story as an inspiring account of women's strength, perseverance and ingenuity, but the film is more complex and darker than typical mainstream fare depicting success in the face of adversity. Rural Kosovo in the scorching summer is dusty and decrepit, men are stony-faced, rough and deeply misogynous (in one scene, Fahrije fights back against a rapist), and the country is in disarray. She finds rare moments of solitude only in the shower, and these tasteful, often emotional scenes represent a welcome change from the bright exteriors and the noisy, nervous neighbourhood.

The director shows considerable skill in forming the characters and working with the actors, especially the intense Gashi. Berlin-based DoP Alex Bloom does a solid job with the classical handheld camera, which is almost always focused on Fahrije, and realistically captures the feel of the village exteriors and often cramped interiors. Swiss composer Julien Painot's score is elegant and used in moderation, and never resorts to overly obvious Balkan melodics.

As Basholli stays away from music montages (there is just one vibrant scene with women dancing in her kitchen) or the extended, uplifting success scenes that would be a must in Hollywood, the film allows for more reflection and a sober view of the events depicted, making sure that the viewer knows this is no fairy tale. However, in the second half, it loses some of its momentum and is somewhat impeded by unnecessary repetitions.

Hive is a co-production between Kosovo's Ikonë Studio and Industria Film, Switzerland's Alva Film, North Macedonia's Black Cat Production, and Albania's AlbaSky Film. Its world sales are overseen by LevelK.

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