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Hive is in UK cinemas from March 18. 

Hive was inspired by the true story of Fahrije Hoti and her struggles to start an organic ajvar business with other Kosovo Albanian women widowed by Serbian forces during the Krushë e Madhe massacres of March 1999. In telling Hoti’s story in her exemplary first feature, Blerta Basholli joins fellow Kosovo-born directors Antoneta Kastrati, Norika Sefa, Lendita Zeqiraj and Blerta Zeqiri in showing how Kosovo’s recovery from trauma involves severing patriarchal shackles.

Basholli has named the Dardenne brothers’ Rosetta (1999), Jasmila Zbanic’s Grbavica (2006), and Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007) among the films she watched when writing Hive. Though she hasn’t mentioned Ken Loach’s work, there are similarities. Loach has constantly depicted how working people are betrayed by those from whom they might reasonably expect help and protection. This also holds true for Hive.

Deprived of income since her husband Agim disappeared, Fahrije (Yllka Gashi) must provide for her adolescent daughter Zana (Kaona Sylejmani), younger son Edon (Mal Noah Safqiu), and invalid father-in-law Haxhi (Çun Lajçi). The honey she collects from the hives Agim made isn’t selling, so she decides to add ajvar to her stock. She and the impoverished widows who join her cottage industry collective find a new enemy in their midst – the surviving village men, who regard the Kanun, the repressive Albanian traditional laws, as holy writ.

Because she must learn to drive and travel to a supermarket in the nearest town, Fahrije’s initiative is sexually demeaned by the men and greeted with suspicion by some widows at a Loachian communal debate early in the film. Even Zana, who objects to Fahrije selling her father’s table-saw to a carpenter, calls her “a whore”, earning a slap. After Haxhi stops the carpenter’s movers from taking the heavy saw, it’s dumped outside the family’s house, a symbol of masculine obsolescence. It’s also a cruel reminder of Agim’s absence, like the abandoned truck, half-submerged in the local river, that perhaps carried the men to their deaths.

Haxhi protests at Fahrije’s plan, believing it will ruin the family’s name. The other men, disgusted by the idea of the widows working, try to sabotage their efforts from a cowardly distance. A stone thrown anonymously from the men’s café shatters Fahrije’s windscreen. Many jars of ajvar are found smashed after a night raid. Fahrije and her co-workers retrieve what they can from the glass-strewn red pepper mess, redolent of bloody flesh. Fahrije’s pepper supplier tries to rape her, an echo of Serbian paramilitaries’ mass rapes of Kosovar women, which stigmatised them in the eyes of their communities.

Fahrije tends to the bees in Hive (2021)
Fahrije tends to the bees in Hive (2021)
© Courtesy of Altitude Films

Gashi’s formidable performance as the taciturn Fahrije extends beyond the stoicism she conveys in the opening shot of her visiting a newly discovered mass grave. Aided from the first by her friend Nazä (Kumrije Hoxha) – whose observations about men give the film its humour – she maintains quiet humility as other women rally to their side, and as Zana shows her true colours by rushing outside on a rainy night to cover the hives. The most touching endorsement of Fahrije’s endeavour comes from Haxhi, whom she overhears affectionately asking Zana if she, too, would like to drive and have a job one day.

Enis Saraçi, the editor hired to improve on Hive’s first cut, has said that to increase audience identification with Fahrije he “wanted to enhance her weakest point, which is ‘the missing husband’”. While Fahrije’s private sobbing is not necessarily a sign of weakness, not knowing if Agim is dead keeps her from embracing independence fully.

Though Basholli’s social realist approach seldom permits symbolism, Fahrije’s actions occasionally betray her conflicted attitude to learning the truth. In the first sequence, she ducks under police tape surrounding a lorry containing body bags to see if any hold Agim’s clothes, indicating she’s not only prepared to break rules, but does want to know if he’s dead. That she later denies incontrovertible proof of his death is understandable after seven years of waiting. At the end, allowing a bee to touch her without fearing being stung, as the easy-going Agim had done, she has seemingly made her peace.

Sight and Sound June 2022

In this issue, we join Mia Hansen-Løve on Bergman Island. Also, we speak to David Lynch and more on the digital revolution, take a trip to the movies with Joachim Trier, and hear from Terence Davies and John Waters.

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