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(Hive premiered in World Dramatic Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival where it won the Grand Jury Prize, Directing Award, and Audience Award. It is Kosovo’s official entry to the 94th Academy Awards for Best International Feature Film. Like what you see here on Hammer to Nail? Why not give just $1.00 per month via Patreon to help keep us going?)

The history of the 1990s Balkan conflicts is a disturbingly vicious one, bloodstains from the various genocides still coloring the socio-political landscapes of today. One of the now-autonomous regions most affected was Kosova (more commonly called, in English, Kosovo), inhabited mostly by ethnic Albanians whose male population suffered untold casualties through unreported mass killings, the victims’ families never to learn how and why (or even whether) they died. What about those left behind, widows and children among them? How did they cope, survive, and move on? 

In Hive, her feature debut, Kosovar filmmaker Blerta Basholli analyzes many of these questions as she tells the true story of Fahrije Hoti, a mother of two who successfully started her own business to help lift herself and others out of poverty, this despite fierce resistance from the patriarchy, unhappy with uppity women not knowing their place. Inspiring and deeply affecting, the movie is a wonderful showcase of human resilience and female empowerment, both timely and timeless.

Yllka Gashi stars as Fahrije. With her strong features and furrowed brow, she looks the epitome of resolve, though there is a vast reserve of feeling below the surface that she struggles to contain. She has no time for grief, even though she misses her presumably deceased husband terribly. Fahrije lives with her wheelchair-bound father-in-law (Çun Lajçi), daughter and son, and is the sole breadwinner for the household, getting by with the honey from their bees and the traditional Albanian “ajvar” dish (preserves made from red peppers and other ingredients), which she sells at the local market. It’s not enough, though, and she could use more money.

And so she launches a venture with the other women of her village, Krusha e Madhe, to organize their respective output in a unified collective and place their ajvar on the shelves of the big supermarket nearby. It’s a great idea, but none of the older men of the area approve, most fathers-in-law preferring to keep their dead sons’ wives close at hand. The film’s title holds many meanings, the “hive” simultaneously the recalcitrant men and the women banding together. Someone has to step up, and slowly, Fahrije proves a force to be reckoned with. Overcoming entrenched misogyny is no easy task, however. 

Nor is searching for the remains, or at least the effects, of loved ones, an additional burden for Fahrije and her fellow widows. Basholli opens and closes her film on images of body bags filled — and tables covered — with recovered clothes, the effect as heartbreaking as one might think. Eventually, these reminders of tragedy take their toll, Fahrije’s tough façade crumbling. How could it not? She’s just an ordinary person, after all, no matter how robust. Yet out of her tale come powerful life lessons, a hopeful reminder that trauma need not be the end. Here, a new beginning awaits, and the rewards are well-earned.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

Zeitgeist Films; Blerta Basholli; Hive film review

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; Managing Editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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