Iris Elezi and Thomas Logoreci’s “Bota” begins with a story about a fairy with burned hands, as narrated by the great veteran of Albanian film and theater, Tinka Kurti. Kurti plays the role of Noje, the grandmother of Juli (Flonja Kodheli), a young woman who works at her cousin Beni’s (Artur Gorishti) cafe. The cafe is called Bota (Albanian for “the world”) and is situated in the middle of a desolate swampland in Albania – we’re never told exactly where it’s located. The spirited Nora (Fioralba Kryemadhi) also works at Bota, and is carrying Beni’s child. Beni, of course, is married. The swampland is filled with families that were interned in the area during Albania’s communist years. Throughout the film, investigators search the swamps, looking for the bodies of political “enemies” executed there decades prior.
The setting of Bota is dreamlike, filled with the lush melodies of Albanian love songs from the 1960’s – the music was sourced from co-director Thomas Logoreci’s family, whose father has a collection of Radio Tirana recordings. The beauty of the music is a powerful counterpoint to the ugliness of Albania’s past, a past that weighs heavy on all of the characters. Juli is hardworking, dedicated to her grandmother – but with an inner world that is rich and full of creativity. Beni’s scheming in the pursuit of money ends up having disastrous consequences for everyone around him. Nora’s defiant energy masks a sadness and toughness that makes her more complex than she appears. All of them want escape, in one form or another.
A chance for change seems to appear with the construction of a new highway close to Bota. With the arrival of engineers Mili (Alban Ukaj) and Filipo (Luca Lionello), a budding romance seems to be a possibility for the restrained Juli – while Beni sees a possibility to breathe new life into the cafe. Mili and Filipo, the two “outsiders” of the film, are able to directly comment on the area’s shell-shocked inhabitants. As Mili explains to Filipo, all the inhabitants have experienced trauma that has left them damaged – “damaged, but alive.” Before the end, Juli discovers truths about her family that were kept hidden from her for decades, and the lives of everyone at Bota implodes. Elezi and Logoreci depict Juli, Beni, Nora and all the families of the interned with compassion and sensitivity, giving voice to a past that deserves our attention and understanding.
Bota will be screening tonight at the Oda Theater at 8:15pm, immediately after Femart’s opening ceremony. Like all of Femart’s events, entry is free. I definitely recommend going.