Blerta Basholli’s Hive opens with a harrowing long take in a camp lined with cloth-adorned corpses. These bodies come from the aftermath of a devastating war in Kosovo, which left more than 1600 victims to this day missing and unidentified. As the film’s lead heroine Fahrije seeks for the body of her late husband, the camera lingers uncomfortably as her search continues. We see her every desperate move, while her family is on the brink of economic collapse. The bodies from the mass graves become a daunting reminder of the cruelty and injustice of the local government. Her own village is a haunting memory of her husband’s disappearance, as the widows of the province are continuously belittled by poor funding sources. But Hive is far from a detrimental, pessimistic tale. As a matter of fact even with the incredibly bleak setup Basholli’s film is a feminist breakthrough of raw and empathetic filmmaking.

Structurally reminiscent of films from other notable naturalistic filmmakers such as Ken Loach and Andrea Arnold, Basholli’s direction is an impressive exercise in social realism. Taking direct notes from the very real people and locations that influenced her film, Hive features plenty of beautiful barren and isolated landscapes which enhances the internal psychological grief of the film’s main protagonist. Further adding to the harrowing cinematic vérité, Yllka Gashi portrays Fahrije with a purposefully cold, steadfast, and articulate performance. To avoid any spoilers, her consistently muted role enhances the more thematically hefty scenes featured within the film, with an impressive amount of understated nuance. 

Hive still unfortunately suffers from the occasional debut-feature hiccups where certain written lines of dialogue and supporting performance delivery are both blunt and needlessly expositional. These scenes have a reputation for diminishing the impact of the realism in which Basholli perfectly sets up. More evident in the film’s third act, Hive essentially becomes a cinematic checklist of mandatory plot points. In the end, the effectiveness of the abrupt finale is incredibly slight in execution. The timid sound design and the layered orchestral score more than makes up for the majority of these major storytelling drawbacks, though it is still important to comment where Basholli crosses the line between rushed narrative and grounded adaptation of true events. 

Just like a jar of homemade ajvar, Hive is a sweet film that sheds an optimistic image on a community of powerful underrepresented women. Demonstrating a positive glimmer of hope within a bleak traditional society, Basholli highlights the importance of community with a universal story at its core. From mother to daughter, cinema can provide a rich assortment of history to a global non-Kosovo based audience. Hive may not be the buzziest title at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, but it will certainly have an impactful sting among audiences and jury members alike.

Dir: Blerta Basholli

Scr: Blerta Basholli

Cast: Yllka Gashi, Çun Lajçi, Aurita Agushi, Kumrije Hoxha

DOP:Alex Bloom

Country: Kosovo/Switzerland/Macedonia/Albania

Year: 2020

Runtime: 84 minutes

Hive premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival as part of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition category. The film will screen again virtually on February 2nd. Hive is also currently seeking international distribution.

By David Cuevas

David Cuevas is a writer, reporter, and the official festivals editor (US/Canada) for FilmHounds Magazine. In his spare time, you can find him watching a bunch of movies while contemplating on his own existence.

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