Three Friends and the World
49th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, 4 – 12 July 2013: East of the West Competition
Albania has only a small film industry with an output of just a few productions per year. Most of them are never screened at cinemas, not even in Albania itself. However, remarkable films do exist in this country and can be discovered at festivals (like the drama Amnistia by Bujar Alimani which was premiered at the Berlinale 2011). Bota, the only Albanian contribution in the East Of The West Competition of the 49th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, I find even more impressive. The FEDEORA jury was asked to award a prize to one of twelve films in this section and did not hesitate to choose this production by Iris Elezi and Thomas Logoreci, an excellent work approaching a serious subject with poetry.
Bota – which means the world in Albanian – is a contemplative film. Three friends – Juli (Flonja Kodheli), Nora (Fioralba Kryemadhi) and Ben (Artur Gorishti) – own a café in an isolated village. As a result of construction works to widen the nearby road, their quiet world starts falling apart. Juli worries about Noje, her ailing and disoriented grandmother. Nora who secretly loves Ben, is pregnant and does not know what to do since Ben is married and keeps pondering on how to expand the café and make it more attractive. While the new road approaches, the villagers are having a last great celebration with fireworks but at dawn, Juli, Ben and Nora must face a shared secret from their traumatic past. At first, Bota appears to be an unspectacular study about the rather boring lives of three young characters. It is only after a while that it turns out to be a sensitive story with a serious political background. The first half of the film is slightly thin on plot but tension grows when Juli is suddenly confronted with the truth about her mother’s death.
Bota is inspired by numerous biographies of people who have survived the Albanian communist terror or, like Juli’s mother, were imprisoned and murdered. Up to today, films reprocessing this dark chapter of Albanian history are rare. The French-educated tyrant Enver Hoxha utilized a particularly cruel tactic to deal with anyone who tried to raise a voice against his reign after the Second World War. Dissidents faced the risk of having their whole families punished and anyone who attracted suspicion was sent off to a network of labour camps scattered over the countryside.
Elezi and Longoreci assembled a diverse mix of characters, young and old, to represent the community living through the years following the trauma of dictatorship. The highway bringing change to this secluded and remote community may be perceived as an apt metaphor for the upheaval Albania was undergoing.
Though it is a sad story with a dramatic ending, it is not exclusively dark and pessimistic. Often, there is a breeze of lightness to the images. Beauty, dirt, hope and melancholy are close together. The café is surrounded by a lot of waste but also located near the sea. Panoramic sequences of fascinating landscapes correspond to a soundtrack of Albania’s forgotten tangos. This music is not a random choice, it relates to Albanian history: In the early 1960’s, when Albania broke with the Soviet Union, moving deeper into isolation, Albanian musicians were temporarily allowed to perform a local variation of the tango which existed in a handful of recordings treasured by vinyl collectors. In the mid-1960’s when Albania fell under the influence of China’s Cultural Revolution, the tango was forbidden.
To prevent any misunderstanding: there is not much music in Bota but it is well chosen and underlines the mood of solitude, pain, desire and love. Economical use of dialogue as well as precise facial expressions and gestures of the wonderful actors with strong and distinct personalities, contribute to the remarkable quality of the film.
Kirsten Liese, Germany