Hive. M, 84 minutes. 4 stars
This simple and effectively titled film is drawn from events in a small village in rural eastern Europe. A part of the world from where some of the best jams and condiments come. Next time I purchase a reasonably priced and flavoursome jam from there, chunky with real fruit, I'll wonder about the conditions under which it was made.
Honey, the gorgeous amber liquid, and ajvar, the tasty bell pepper spread, are stock-in-trade for the women of Krushe e Madhe in the small, embattled country of Kosovo, the site of bitter ethnic wars in 1998-99. Of the thousands of men and boys who were captured, many are still missing, likely buried in unmarked graves that Serbian authorities still refuse to acknowledge.
Krushe e Madhe has become known as the village of widows.
Fahrije (actor Yllka Gashi is Albanian and former refugee) still holds out slender hope that the body of her missing husband, presumably killed in the massacres, will be located too. It has fallen to her to persuade his family to provide DNA so that his remains, when found, can be identified.
There are regular demonstrations in Kosovan cities, of women demanding to know what has happened to their husbands here, a decade after hostilities ceased. The backstory to this drama set around 2011 is based on the life story of Fahrije Hoti, a widow and mother of two, whose efforts to build a new life for her family were met with admonition and instruction that "a widow should only do housework, respect her in-laws and stay at home".
She ignored this advice completely, got herself a driver's licence and a job, and one day opened a little business of her own with other women, many widows like her. Today Hoti's business employs about 50 women and sells its pickled vegetables around the country and abroad.
Kosovan writer-director Blerta Basholli wrote her script based on the details of Hoti's life. Through the details of her struggle, told in a naturalistic style, this fiction feature cleaves closely to real-life experiences with a camera style that identifies closely with the protagonist, experiencing the world from her own intimate point of view.
Although widowed by war, expected to subsequently submit to her in-laws and confine herself to home duties, the Fahrije character of the film will have none of it. She is determined to provide for her family of which she is the head and only prospective breadwinner, as her father is severely disabled. The futures of her son and daughter are her paramount concern.
What can she do? There are beehives that her husband built, that she can harvest. And there are sweet bell peppers in abundance that she can purchase in bulk and turn into ajvar. As she becomes more enterprising with these modest objectives, many men in the village, the majority it seems, become increasingly condemnatory. You whore, they spit at her, and throw rocks at her car window. Some of the women warn that the whole village is talking about her, as she heads out on business to places on her own, and worst of all her own husband would have been ashamed of her.
Fahrije, small business entrepreneur, battles on, braving slings and arrows from all directions, even within her own family. Does she have any choice to do otherwise? There are many tough experiences, including an attempted rape, but other women slowly come on board.
They bond, and when they dance and sing together it is possible to feel hope for them and their future.
Filmmakers like Basholli can take heart in the fact that a foreign film can now get an Oscar nomination these days, not only for best international film but since Parasite won the top prize in 2020, aspire to best film. For all filmmakers working in languages other than English, the best film Oscar to that outstanding Korean film was a signal that times were changing in the movie establishment.
Perhaps it's more to the point that the subtitled film is reaching global audiences beyond the art-house.
Modest in scope, Hive is tough at times but in showing how determination can win through, it has a powerful message.
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