To make a film that is charmed but not 'charming' is no easy feat. Among other factors, it takes a deft hand at the directing level and requires a delicate balancing act between a myriad of cinematic forms and techniques. While many of these can be discerned in this co-directed and co-written debut by Albania's Iris Elezi and American-Albanian director Thomas Logoreci, the most successful formal and cinematic element of the film is the overwhelming and persuasive evocation of place. Bota translates as The World and as one would expect, a film with such an evocative title should of course create one — whether a symbolic, poetic or metaphoric one — and Bota the filmic world, Bota the cafe and bota the referential world is richly conjured in this satisfying piece of modest budget cinema.
Initially an uncomplicated tale with somewhat stereotypical Central/Eastern European types, Bota weaves the story of a small world within a world in Albania where the original residents are all dissidents who had been rounded up in the days of Communism and forcibly removed from their homes and re-located to this dismal and bleak outback far away from their original places of origin. Now they and theiroff-spring inhabit this near liminal space, a space which is neither here nor there. The center of this world, this bota, is a ramshackle café/bar named Bota which acts as a kind of theatre where each character's life is played out. As the story unfolds — and the characters develop beyond the initial typologies — we meet and gain insights into the stories of the key protagonists: Beni (Artur Gorishti) a small-time crook and big fish in this small pond who, in addition to owning Bota and already being married, has impregnated one of the waitresses — his doting young girlfriend, Nora (Fioralba Kryemadhi) whose only desire is to live with Beni. In contrast to Nora's rather slothful approach to her life and waitressing duties is the hard-working and long-suffering Bota manager, Juli (Flonja Kodheli), cousin of Beni, whose no-nonsense approach to her duties and indeed to her whole life, are exemplary and she proves to be the strength behind this motley group. As we come to understand the dreams and desires of this trio — Beni wants money, Nora wants Beni, and Juli wants to escape both Bota and in a larger sense, bota — we experience their lives as they interact with each other and with other fleeting characters amongst whom are Noje, Juli's grandmother (played by the doyenne of Albanian cinema, Tinka Kurti) and two outsiders from the world well beyond Bota café — highway construction engineers about to build a new motorway that will run close to the café and potentially change this particular Bota/bota and becomes a metaphor for possible change for all the characters. A source of much needed cash for Beni, a route of escape for Juli and a possible threat of instability for Nora with regard to Beni. Then a twist in the plot which is wholly convincing and hinted at earlier in the film becomes the locus of the last section and as bota (the world) changes for all concerned, the film ends in a nicely balanced, well-judged and satisfying way; in an inconclusive state neither wholly resolved nor wholly unresolved — much like the world itself.
The strong sense of place evoked by long, lingering wide shots of the landscape and the wonderfully oddball design of the Bota café are not the only strengths of this film however, it is commendable that the directors have chosen to let the narrative unfold at its own leisurely and unhurried pace while never letting it flag — a credit to the editing and the writing. Add in the evocative soundtrack which aurally frames many of the scenes and you have an admirable, engaging and above all enjoyable film made by first time feature filmmakers whose careers will reward watching in the future.
Edited by Tara Judah
© FIPRESCI 2014