The Hill Where Lionesses Roar is a remarkable achievement by 20-year old actor Luàna Bajrami (seen recently as Sophie in Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)), who is writer, director and star of this languidly beautiful story that captures the frustrations of youth, poverty and gender in rural Kosovo.
Qe (Flaka Latifi), Li (Era Balaj) and Jeta (Urate Shabani) are three teenagers caught in the torpor of summer, waiting for any kind of opportunity to lift them from the hopelessness of their situation. As women they are marginal – beaten by fathers, abused by uncles, and overlooked by the system. With little hope for better, they form a gang and briefly get a taste of the freedom that money can bring.
Bajrami takes time to build a feel for each of the women without every really spelling out their situation. She keeps the camera close when the three are together, accentuating the claustrophobic confines of their small town and focusing on the intimacies and rivalries that surface. We see their relationships with others at a distance, framed by windows and doors, emphasising their self-determined isolation.
The epicentre is Qe and it is hard to look away from Latifi’s hypnotically dour face. Bajrami has a small role as Lena, a visitor from France who has a sophistication that the girls admire and resent in equal parts. With the heat of summer, we drift along with the story as it becomes something of a mood piece, sagging a little as the days of no consequences drag on.
The ending is an odd one; satisfying but stylistically at odds with the rest of the film in a way that undermines the elegance of the rest. Don’t let this put you off though. I look forward to seeing what Bajrami comes up with next.
Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.