Luka Vlaho’s Review on “Hive”

Hive (Zgjoy, 2021), dir. Blerta Basholli

I thought we all had a limited reservoir of tears in ourselves,” writes Javier Cercas in his most recent novel Lord of All the Dead. The same thing can be said for Fahrije (Yllka Gashi), the lead character in Blerta Basholli’s debut feature Hive. Fahrije’s husband is one of the many missing soldiers of the Kosovo War. He was supposedly taken by the tumultuous river that passes nearby Fahrije’s village but nobody knows whether he has drowned or became stranded on some shore far away. Whatever the case, you can almost sense that Fahrije filled the river with her tears on that day.

The film, which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and won three awards, uses the subject of war and trauma as a backdrop for the main plot. The story is based on true events and is centered on Fahrije’s efforts to start her own business of making a traditional pepper and eggplant salad called ajvar. She wants to sell the bottled product to local supermarkets but she encounters hostility from village men who think it’s shameful a woman should do anything on her own. Trying to reconcile her endeavours with the conservative opinions of her community, Fahrije has to find all the help possible to achieve the independence she never had.

Basholli and Gashi treat the character of Fahrije with both tenderness and cruelty. She is like those jars used for ajvar storing – there is a thick layer of stubbornness that surrounds her but even that kind of layer can be broken by life’s most brutal impacts. The rare tears she sheds in the film imply that no kind of pain can be measured against the hurtful loss of a beloved one. Her determination to succeed in the ajvar business is closely connected to her determination to find out what has really happened to her husband. The belief that he might be alive keeps her going forward.

The poetic realism of Hive doesn’t impose on the plot. Basholli deprives the film of strong stylistic choices to leave the story and its subject matter its main virtues. Cinematographer Alex Bloom’s handheld camera stays focused on Fahrije’s face for the most of the running time, which makes the visual content of the film somewhat repetitive. On the other hand, Basholli films the landscape of Kosovo with poignancy, as if to show respect for all the blood and bodies this soil carries.

Hive manages to effectively transpose a real-life story of one woman’s efforts into the fictional world of drama, but Basholli discovers something more. The realisation that Fahrije perhaps wouldn’t be able to start her business if her husband were alive sends chills down the spine. She would then be condemned to the patriarchal ways of the traditional family that rule her society. It is also chilling to look at Kosovo of mid-2000s and think it looks basically the same today. Basholli discovers timelessness because time has yet to come for the tormented landscapes of Kosovo.

Luka Vlaho
Edited by Amber Wilkinson