Hive, a triple award-winner at Sundance Film Festival is a beautifully constructed, exceptionally acted and poignantly rendered feature film by writer/director Blerta Basholli. In the film, Basholli simplistically and profoundly examines the aftereffects of the 1998-1999 Kosovo war that impacted civilians and dislocated the cultural mores and society of Kosovo.
It is through this backdrop that Basholli focuses on representative families that suffered the loss of relatives and economic hardship which was felt greatest in the towns where killing, rape, burning and looting took place. One of the largest massacres happened in the village of Krusha e Madhe, the setting of the film inspired by a true story. There, families are still waiting over twenty years later for word of their loved ones in the hope of recovering their clothing or bodies so they might receive a proper burial. Then, the uncertainty of what happened to their husbands and relatives would finally reach closure.
Writer/director Blerta Basholli reveals the strength and resilience of the women whose husbands have gone missing as they attempt to confront their grief, raise their children, take care of their in-laws and put food on the table with their own ingenuity, hard work and home crafted items. Focusing on Fahrije Hoti, Basholli reveals how the enterprising Hoti gradually fights the patriarchal culture of lazy men to gather a collective (a hive) and establish a way for the women to support themselves and their children, launching a business to make and sell ajvar (roasted red pepper spread).
Initially, we see that Hoti attempts to maintain her husband’s bee hives, collecting the honey and having her father-in-law who is in a wheelchair sell it. During the film we learn the bee hives and honey are a remembrance of her husband, though the honey doesn’t provide them with enough money after it’s sold. And she hasn’t found the way to deal with the bees like her husband did, so that she doesn’t get stung. Hoti ends up having to nurse her wounds as the bees sting her when she gets the honey.
As Fahrije Hoti, Albanian actor Yllka Gashi teases out an exceptional portrayal of the woman whose struggles inspired the director to create her story from emotional truth. When a car is donated so that Hoti can drive and help the other widows, she gets a license. And because she and the women are destitute, she gets the idea to start a business selling avjar. But the men of the village reject her driving autonomy and her flitting around the village to pursue business. It is a threat to their masculinity and power structure extent for centuries.
When she parks near the cafe to do business, a rock is thrown smashing the car window. Her transgression is clear. Their violent attack forewarns her to stop or worse will follow. However, Hoti doesn’t respond, except to drive home and tape up the back window. She stoically continues about her business without confronting the men at the cafe who despise her.
As Hoti is encouraged by another, older widow, despite the disdain of even her own children and her father-in-law who disagree with her plans, gradually, she and a few women agree to form the business. They chip in money for the supplies. Eventually, they meet at her house to make the avjar. However, she faces tremendous backlash and her own daughter is nasty to her when Hoti attempts to sell a band saw, a memento of her husband to get the money to buy more peppers.
Other obstacles come from the men in the village whose chauvinistic egos are threatened by these autonomous women. They try to destroy their product and stop their sales. Clearly, the men see them as whores who have overstepped the boundaries of the female identity set in the traditions of the town. And the man who sells her the red peppers attempts to collect payment in sex, assuming that she is a whore, for what woman would do what she is doing?
One of the important conflicts in the film, explores Hoti forging ahead despite ancient mores and folkways that would keep her and her family starving. She, like the other women widowers, is destitute. However, where the other widowers are afraid, Hoti has nothing left to lose. Hoti’s ability to drive strengthens her; one taboo has been overthrown. Why not be the head of a business? Another taboo is overthrown. Initially, the other cowed women reject her plan to sell their product out of fear of censure and a reputation of disgrace.
But with every move she makes, Hoti becomes more determined and she exemplifies to the others that the archaic folkways make no sense in a modern world. The irony is that the complaining, bullying men condemn them for working but do not lift a finger to support them. They approve of their groveling in starvation, another type of ignominy, without their husbands. Either way, the women are disgraced for they are women without men. Hoti and the women defy the men’s backward definitions of who women are. They redefine themselves.
Cleverly, the director subtly shows the harmful misogyny as a destructive nihilistic force which benefits no one, least of all the entire town. Basholli presents this as she tells the story through silences and actions, without haranguing or presenting a political argument. The effect is striking; we feel the full force of the crumbling of the patriarchy as the men fear having to redefine themselves, which these powerful women are forcing them to do.
Basholli’s themes are striking. It is clear that the lazy men begrudge the women’s attempt to survive without their husbands. In other words they are to remain stuck in time with no identity, power, autonomy, sovereignty apart from their husbands. They are expected to curl up and die as an honorable way to remember their men; be with them in death or wait in limbo in a dead zone. The thought that the widowers make a life for themselves to overthrow the former traditions is the death of the old way and the beginning of a new way that Hoti is creating. She chooses hope and life after the massacre of the village. Hers is a bold, vibrant, maverick move. Astounding and revolutionary, she re-emerges a new individual.
Life and hope respond in renewal as the women receive sustenance from each other and appreciate their new unity, inner peace and financial power from their “hive.” Thus, they continue to contract with other supermarket owners who sell what they are making and expand, as the director shows after the last cinematic shots of Gashi. At the conclusion, Yllka Gashi as Hoti is dressed in a beekeeper’s outfit. A bee walks on her hand as she remains at peace, unafraid, knowing the bee will not sting her, like her husband never was stung. Basholli renders Hoti’s metaphoric, symbolic peace in communion with the bee as acceptance of the opportunity and new world that she recognizes is open to her.
This superb debut feature film by Basholli is Kosovo’s official selection for Best International Feature Film, Kosovo’s eighth official entry, and was recently included on the International Feature Film shortlist for the 94th Academy Awards®. Hive is one to see for its dynamic award-winning performance by Yllka Gashi, award winning directing/writing and its current, vital themes about defining one’s life, and persistence in carving out one’s place, especially in a society that is closed, weak and crumbling.