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VENICE 2021 Orizzonti

Review: Vera Dreams of the Sea

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- VENICE 2021: With her feature debut, Kaltrina Krasniqi continues, and probably tops, the wave of Kosovar female directors whose films deal with the position of women in their society

Review: Vera Dreams of the Sea
Teuta Ajdini Jegeni in Vera Dreams of the Sea

Kosovo's female directors have been noticed on the festival circuit with films dealing with the position of women in the small country's society for the past few years (and let's not forget Blerta Zaqiri's pioneering gay-themed The Marriage [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Blerta Zeqiri
film profile
]
in 2017), but in 2021, we see an explosion: Blerta Basholli's Hive [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Blerta Basholli
film profile
]
won at Sundance, Norika Sefa's Looking for Venera [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Norika Sefa
film profile
]
took home the Special Jury Prize from Rotterdam, and Luana Bajrami's The Hill Where Lionesses Roar [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Luana Bajrami
film profile
]
premiered at Cannes and garnered the Best Actress Award for its fascinating three-member ensemble at Sarajevo.

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But maybe the latest addition to what can already be considered a trend (“Kosovar Women's Wave”?) is the richest and most accomplished of them all: Vera Dreams of the Sea [+see also:
trailer
interview: Kaltrina Krasniqi
film profile
]
, the feature debut by Kaltrina Krasniqi, which has just world-premiered in Venice's Orizzonti section.

In the opening scene, we see Vera (theatre actress Teuta Ajdini Jegeni) literally daydreaming about the sea. The image of the lazy, blue waves is replaced by the face of the middle-aged sign-language interpreter getting made up for her turn on the local TV news. The rare skill enables her to make a relatively comfortable living, along with the pension of her husband, respected judge Fatmir (Xhevat Qorraj). However, it is impossible to amass any savings in an honourable way in such a crime-ridden society, so when she hears that a buyer has been found for their old village house, Vera can finally relax about the future of her daughter, single mum and actress Sara (a moving performance by Alketa Sylaj, known from Cold November [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Ismet Sijarina
film profile
]
).

But when Fatmir suddenly commits suicide and Vera finds him in an expertly crafted scene, the interest in their house skyrockets. The formerly worthless place is on the path of a planned highway, a project plagued by corruption scandals. Cousin Ahmet (Astrit Kabashi, seen in Exile [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Visar Morina
film profile
]
, Hive
and Zana [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Antoneta Kastrati
film profile
]
) claims that Fatmir promised him the house as a gift, and soon Vera is pressured into giving it away by a veritable procession of rough, threatening men.

Ajdini Jegeni is in almost every shot, and her physical appearance and performance bring to mind Nadezhda Markina's turn in Andrei Zvyagintsev's Elena. But unlike this character, Vera is a sensitive, traumatised, compassionate but strong-willed person with an immovable sense of justice, and Ajdini Jegeni portrays her through a fascinating combination of subtle and bold acting methods.

In her screenplay, established playwright Doruntina Basha manages to bring together the many diverse elements into a captivating, dramatic story, and their cumulative effect is much bigger than the sum of their parts. The patriarchal society and the way it controls women is presented as a centuries-old structure that the laws of the young, underdeveloped country are no match for.

The motif of a woman who is the voice of the voiceless in such an environment works as a simple but powerful metaphor, and so do Vera's dreams of the sea – not least when they are really nightmares. As edited by the director and Vladimir Pavlovski, these segments of dark-blue expanses create a welcome, psychedelic buffer amongst the realistic proceedings.

The experimental, industrial-themed theatre show that Sara plays in echoes the setting: DoP Sevdije Kastrati (The Marriage, Open Door [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Florenc Papas
film profile
]
, Zana
) films the Prishtina downtown area as a congested, hard-to-navigate maze of cracked, rain-soaked streets, and its ever-expanding suburbs as a mix of the rural and the industrial, with construction sites perched on each available square metre between dusty roads and brush patches. When Vera is interacting with other characters, the cinematographer often shifts between shallow and deep focus, communicating her physical and symbolic position with ease.

A co-production between Kosovo's Isstra Creative Factory and Vera Films, North Macedonia's Dream Factory and Albania's Papadhimitri Film Production, Vera Dreams of the Sea is sold internationally by Heretic.

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