Hive (Zgjoi) (2021)

Hive (Zgjoi) first published (in a shorter version) by

Writer/director Blerta Basholli’s feature debut Hive (Zgjoi) begins with a diptych of scenes. In the first, Fahrije (Yllke Gashi) searches body bags in a makeshift UN camp. In the second, as she removes sweet honey from a beehive, she gets stung. What connects these two scenes, besides the matching white of the UN hazmat suits and the beekeeping protective suit, and the haunted presence of Fahrije herself, is in fact an absence. For it is seven years since 1999’s mass deportations and massacres at the village of Krusha e Madhe during the Kosovo War – and Fahrije’s husband Agim, like so many others, has been missing ever since. The body that Fahrije was vainly seeking at the UN camp was Agim’s, as was the apiary business that she now herself maintains, for all the pain that it brings her. In this respect, she is like many of the women in Krusha: effectively (if uncertainly) widowed, held back from making ends meet by an ingrained patriarchy (even with so many of the fathers gone), and caught between preserving her husband’s memory and moving on to a more tenable life.

Every hive needs its queen, and when the enterprising Fahrije spots a business opportunity not just for herself, her invalid father-in-law Haxhi (Çun Lajçi) and her children Zana and Edon (Kaona Sylejmani, Mal Noah Safqiu), but also for many other local women who have lost their husbands and their livelihoods, she seizes it – much as, in a bid for autonomy, she learns to drive. Yet there are many obstacles to success. In a community where normally men are the breadwinners while women are expected merely to keep house, Fahrije must contend with deep-seated misogynies both external (from the local men and their simmering violence) and internalised (from her family members and indeed from some of the other women). She must also negotiate her own refusal fully to accept that Agim is gone forever, and her hope that he will one day return – an entirely understandable commitment to her past which hampers her ability to build the foundations for a new future. Yet she is determined, in the face of widespread opposition, to carve out a better life and to bring a new sense of solidarity, industry and purpose to the village’s oppressed womenfolk.

Modelled on real, ongoing history – and told in a style that is, apart from the odd, trauma-tinged underwater dream sequence, starkly naturalist – Basholli’s film shows a community that has become defined and mired by its own unresolved sense of loss, as it slowly finds its way towards a reconstruction that is quietly revolutionary and liberating. “We will fix it together now,” Haxhi tells his grandson, as he fights away his tears and opts to repair the damage done to a household – and also to a nation – rather than to let the rot set in. It is this willingness to adapt and to unify, led by Fahrije’s example, which offers hope for change – but also for continuity and an honouring of the past, however stinging.

strap: In Blerta Basholli’s sweet but stinging tale of hope, a war-widowed beekeeper leads the rebuilding of her broken Kosovan community with a new enterprise

© Anton Bitel