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Hive: Poignant and quietly inspirational

Looking at patriarchy and social norms in Kosovo in the wake of war, the meditative pacing and sensitive direction of Blerta Basholli’s Hive allow it to be inspirational without moralising.

Press Still 5 Hive

We are witnessing the borders of cinema begin to erode. The success of films like Parasite (2019) and Drive My Car (2021) has signalled a willingness on the part of audiences to look beyond what is offered by the mainstream and seek out stories which transcend language. Blerta Basholli’s feature debut has broken its own ground, claiming all three of the major awards in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.

Based on a true story, Hive follows Fahrije (Yllka Gashi) as she struggles to set up her own business in the wake of her husband’s disappearance during the Kosovo War. Fahrije must confront the bigotry of a society which dismisses her attempt to make ends meet by selling a homemade condiment called ajvar, becoming the subject of censure as she tramples on long-held social proscriptions and begins recruiting fellow widows in her rural Kosovar village.

In different hands, Hive could have been a heart-warming tale of triumph over adversity. But Basholli is cognizant of the historical forces arrayed against Fahrije and the possibility of a neat resolution when the margins of victory are so slight. Instead, Basholli charts the small gains Fahrije is able to carve from the implacable face of the patriarchal order. Gashi’s portrayal of Fahrjie is the image of unassuming heroism and stoic tenacity. From the outset we see her breaching boundaries, shrugging off the stings of social stigma to forge a new future.

The tone of Hive brings to mind the work of Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Its naturalism is invested with the almost animate vitality of the landscape. The air seems to resonate with a higher emotional current, radiating a warmth which creates an element of strangeness and unfamiliarity. In dramatizing Fahrije’s life, Basholli avoids the pitfalls which could have dragged Hive into cliche. Instead, it's the meditative pacing and sensitive direction which shines through.

Fahrije stares resolutely into the future, looking to pass beyond the point of loss, but the weight of the past is difficult to cast off. The landscape of Krusha e Madhe is dotted with reminders which serve as potent metaphors.

Hive is an understated work which manages to be inspirational without moralising. It stands alongside Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s Mustang (2015) in its evocation of a quiet iconoclasm which smashes received ideas. Seeing these characters grapple with the scars of war feels particularly poignant in the current climate. But Basholli’s telling of Fahrije’s story offers a heartening example of hope amidst devastation.

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