Review: Looking for Venera
- Norika Sefa's feature debut uses a simple but effective plot to depict how teenage girls are currently growing up in Kosovar society
Last week, in Blerta Basholli's Sundance-winning feature Hive [+see also:
interview: Blerta Basholli
film profile], we had the chance to see how women fight for empowerment in deeply patriarchal Kosovo. Now, having just won the Special Jury Award at Rotterdam's IFFR (see the news), Norika Sefa's first feature, Looking for Venera [+see also:
interview: Norika Sefa
film profile], shows us how teenage girls are currently growing up in this same society. However, this is where the similarities between the two end.
Rather than developing an elaborate plot, Sefa is interested in showing us the world inhabited by the two lead characters, teenager Venera (first-timer Kosovare Krasniqi, displaying an impressive range and depth) and her slightly older friend Dorina (Rozafa Cefaj, one of the more memorable characters in Lendita Zeqiraj's Aga's House [+see also:
interview: Lendita Zeqiraj
film profile]). They live in a small town with a defunct factory and exactly one club for youngsters. Venera's house is crammed with three generations of her family, including Grandma and Mum and Dad, and apparently two young brothers as well. It is not always easy to keep track, as there is an assortment of neighbours and cousins that keep coming and going, as well as no fewer than four handymen who are there to help Venera's father (Basri Lushtaku, also seen in Aga's House) set up a swinging door – a humorous detail that speaks volumes about self-important Balkan patriarchs.
Venera and Dorina go to an English class at a local teacher's place, and her living room is likewise crowded with students. After Dorina tells Venera about the guy she has sex with in secret places, our heroine gets curious and will start experimenting with a guy herself.
This is the whole plot, but by no means the whole story. Sefa's unorthodox, formally exciting approach just touches on themes that would be the main point in any other film, providing further fodder for the rich atmosphere of the visually multi-layered feature. This cramped quality that the picture has also comes from the cinematography by Venezuela's Luis Armando Arteaga (Jayro Bustamante's Tremors [+see also:
interview: Jayro Bustamante
film profile] and Ixcanul [+see also:
interview: Jayro Bustamante
film profile]). Completely forsaking wide shots, the DoP films Venera in semi close-ups, often relegating her to the bottom of the frame, implying her place in the family. In other scenes, the action happens off screen as we look at a group of boys huddled together and hear a dog squealing. Arteaga often focuses on body parts in semi close-ups or other details that indicate the characters' state of mind.
The brown-grey colour palette, bare tree branches, withered grass and bright, winter sun that shines on the rocky terrain depict the way of life in the village as chaotic. Traditional society is omnipresent: men look at women with a mix of disapproval and lust, Venera's mother is ever mindful of the dignity of the family, and her husband is stern and tight-lipped. It seems that in this society, a woman brings shame to her family when she does basically anything on her own, except for staying at home.
By far the most appealing asset of the film are the two main actresses, who play wonderfully off each other, and whose outlook and mutual relationship are quite touching and original. Of course, there is “girly talk” about boys, but in this context, it inevitably becomes a much more serious thing. Sefa has developed their characters as vivid and fully fledged, with a very convincing arc for the quiet but headstrong Venera, and this is what drives the picture the most.
Looking for Venera is a co-production by Kosovo's Circle Production and In My Country.
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