Toma’s provincial town is desperately depressed, even by Albania’s standards.
Of course, she is not really from there. She and her family were interned there
during the Communist era and, one way or another, they have been stuck there
ever since. The past is like a millstone holding down the present in Iris Elezi
& Thomas Logoreci’s Bota (trailer here), which screens during
this year’s Panorama Europe, at the Museum of the Moving Image.
is a waitress at Bota (meaning the world), her cousin Beni’s coffee shop that
draws a decent clientele, considering it is literally in the middle of nowhere.
That is exactly why the old regime deposited its so-called “state enemies” there.
Beni is an operator who has plenty of dodgy dealings with underworld types, but
Toma is more-or-less resigned to a futureless future. At least, she will make
no plans while caring for Noje, her beloved grandmother, who is increasingly
succumbing to the ravages of age.
soon learn Toma was done wrong by both the Communists and Beni. Her supposed
best friend Nora knows it full well, but she keeps quiet hoping Beni, her
illicit lover, will leave his unseen wife for her. Eventually, the truth will
out, to an extent, but at a great cost for the Bota trio.
Bota is so intrinsically bound up in
the lingering corrosiveness of the Communist Party and the successive
government’s problematic response, Elezi & Logoreci hardly bother to
address politics directly. After all, the results are as plain as day. Instead,
they focus like a laser-beam on Toma.
lead actress Flonja Kodheli survives and thrives under their potentially
withering gaze. With quiet but forceful understatement, she personifies
everyday resiliency. Artur Gorishti and Fioralba Kryemadhi are both fine and
good as Beni and Nora, but we have seen their like before. However, there is
something about how Kodheli’s Toma expresses both naivety and world-weariness
that is quite moving.
As inviting and lived-in as the Bota café looks
(with considerable credit due to the detailed work of art director Shpetim
Baca), Bota the film hardly serves as
a tourism commercial for Albania. In a way, it is like the dark flip side of
the Central Perk coffee house in Friends.
Although there are a few references that will be lost on non-Albanians (for
instance, The General of the Dead Army,
a celebrated Ismail Kadare novel about an Italian officer commissioned to
locate war remains), the larger truths are easy to grasp. Well worth seeing for
its discreet tragedy and the power of Kodheli’s work, Bota screens this Sunday (5/31) as part of Panorama Europe, at MoMI
in Astoria, Queens.
Labels: Albanian cinema, Communism, Panorama Europe '15