Blerta Basholli’s quiet and forceful drama about the awfulness of war and its effect on women in patriarchal small-town society is a welcome companion-piece to Strong Female Lead (2021) where we saw how hard it was to maintain respect and autonomy, even when you are the elected leader of a country.
Basholli developed the story after reading about a woman in Kosovo, Fahrije, who was bullied by her community after getting her driver licence. Her husband was one of hundreds who went missing during a massacre in the 90s Kosovo War and she desperately needed an income to support her family. The women of the village had been left in limbo as the investigation into the disappearances dragged on for years. They were married but without husbands, unable to work or show any independence, grieving but expected to stay quiet and at home.
Yllka Gashi is outstanding as Fahrije and her quiet, stoic visage reminded me of Sofia (2018), where we can feel the roil of emotions that it is being contained behind an impassive countenance. She lives with her elderly father-in-law Haxhi (Çun Lajçi), who doesn’t want to face the possibility that his son is dead, and two children oblivious to the crisis they are facing as a family. When the local women’s collective offers driving lessons, most women turn them down as their fathers-in-law would be shamed at them showing such independence. Fahrije is more determined, and Haxhi more amenable, and her role as driver leads her to co-opt the other women into a business making ajvar, a traditional pepper relish, to sell at a supermarket.
There are a few themes running through this movie. The oppressiveness of patriarchy is at its core, seen in the abuse that Fahrije experiences from men and the internalised misogyny of the women, who are afraid of the repercussions of challenging the status quo or even being associated with it. Patriarchy is at its worst when it forces women to rely on men for their existence and then condemns them when that support is taken away. Where the abuse is gendered – like in Strong Female Lead – it seems particularly nasty and destructive.
From this comes a solidarity amongst the women as Fahrije’s determination sees them come together to make ajvar. We can see the difference it makes, both to their financial survival and the emotional support that comes from sharing space and stories. When their freshly and painstakingly made jars of ajvar are smashed, it is easier as a group to pick up the pieces and carry on. We see the effect this has on Fahrije’s daughter who goes from attacking her mother for disrupting the status quo to joining in with the women. You wonder what her future might be and whether she will have any options other than marriage and obedience.
Weaving through the story is the backdrop of the Kosovo War and we get a glimpse of the impotence of those ordinary villagers who had their lives ripped apart. Twenty years later, 1600 people are still unaccounted for and it is no surprise that this lack of resolution, the lack of a place to grieve and the perennial hope that the loved one is still alive compounds the tragedy.
The hive of the title relates to the bee hives that Fahrije’s husband Ardian (Shkelqim Islami) built and tended, the responsibility now falling to Fahrije. She is stung each time and struggles to find the calmness that came naturally to Ardian. Here we see the personal toll on her and her grief and struggle to continue on her life without him. It is a necessary touch as it shows the layers of tragedy in a story such as this and also the incredible resilience of anyone who can not only survive it but change the world around her.
Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.