Hive

Director: Blerta Basholli (Kosovo, Switzerland, Albania, North Macedonia). Year of Release: 2021

Kosovo, 2006, 7 years after the end of the war. A large white tent has been erected in a field, and UN workers are walking around in white uniforms. A local woman looks inside the tent and sees what appears to be row upon row of body bags. She moves to an army van, where she sees more of the bags. As she rummages in one of them, it seems that they don’t contain bodies, but clothes and belongings of the disappeared. A UN worker approaches her and says she shouldn’t be here.

Cut to: the same woman in a white uniform which isn’t too different to the one worn by the UN workers. Except she is also wearing a bee-keeper’s mask, and is emptying a hive. Honeycombs are surrounded by swarming bees, a couple of which creep through her ageing protective clothing and sting her. Fahrije’s husband has been missing since the war, so she now in charge, gathering the honey, and taking her father-in-law Haxhi to the local market where he sells it from his wheelchair.

Fahrije is also very active in a women’s collective, which distributes money to women who are unable to look after their families while their husbands are missing, probably dead. The collective has recently got access to a car, and needs someone to drive things around, but no-one has a driving license, and the patriarchal village society does not really of women driving. There is some pressure from male relatives but also a reluctance by the women to draw attention to themselves.

Fahrije gains a license, which she then uses to support an idea she has to increase the collective’s meagre budget. If the women can make ajvar – a local condiment made of red peppers – maybe they can sell it at the local supermarket. With the help of a friendly greengrocer, Fahrije first persuades one older women to join in. The local men, who spend most of their day sitting in a café are not impressed and soon a brick goes through Fahrije’s car window.

Fahrije is also having problems with her family. It’s not just the domineering Haxhi. Fahrije’s daughter Zana is an early teen with all that that entails. When Fahrije tries to sell some of her husband’s old stuff to get the ajvar production going, Zana is appalled that she can betray her husband. Refusing to accept that her father could be dead, Zana clings onto every slight memory of him. She shouts that her mother is a whore, something that she’s heard from the villagers.

Gradually, the women gain the self-confidence to help produce ajvar, first dropping off jars at Fahrije’s house, later joining collective preparation and cooking sessions. In a scene towards the end, the women dance around a kitchen table, where Fahrije’s kids are still sitting. Zana looks intrigued, almost excited. Fahrije’s son looks more bored than he’s ever been in his life. Then 2 people arrive at the house with possible news about her husband…

As the end credits start to roll, we are told that the film is based on a true story and are shown photos of the “real” Fahrije. We also learn of a massacre in her village, where 240 people were killed or disappeared, and many of them were thrown into the local river – a river which feature regularly in the film. We are told, even though we have sensed it already, that Fahrije’s husband’s corpse may be still rotting at the bottom of the river.

Although Hive is in effect a celebration of a real life female entrepeneur, it does not shirk from showing us how working class women suffer, then slowly band together to confront the cause of their suffering. It is perhaps better that the film ends while the ajvar is still being produced by a collective, and the power relations between the different women are of relative equality. This allows us to cheer on Fahrije without any feelings that she may be profiting from her colleagues.

There are no great surprizes in the film, which generally follows familiar Hollywood narrative paths, Gradually, the women join together. Fahrije’s family overcome their tensions and similarly reconcile their differences. While there is no happy ending, not really, you do get a sense that the Good Guys are coming up on top. This is not a problem if a film has something interesting and important to say, and Hive easily passes on both of these criteria.

Although the Kosovo war exists only really as background, we are shown the devastation wrought by war much more clearly than in some films which concentrate more on the blood and the action. Not much happens in Hive, but this is mainly because the characters are too busy just surviving than getting involved with great bombast. It is a film which shows silent courage rather than extrovert heroism.

Instead of loud pyrotechnics, we are more likely to see scenes of Zana having her first period (well, her second – first time round she just dealt with it without telling her mother). Mother and daughter are finally united in dealing with practical difficulties. The scene serves as a metaphor for the film as a whole. It is unspectacular, but a display of great stoicism. We don’t often see characters like Fahrije and Zana in films. We should see many more.

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