By Ivana Bilić and Romain Taunais
“Ka me kalu” and “Vera dreams of the sea” – two movies which, even if they are set in different contexts and tell different stories, have a lot in common. The two movies, directed and written by women, place women upfront as main characters. Depicting the fate of both women through generations, they open with the burial of a family member. It is a lot more than the grief of the loss of the beloved; rather, both movies are questioning the fate of women through generations, their rights, their traumas, and its transmission.
“KA ME KALU” / IT WILL PASS/ IT WILL GET BETTER
Flonja Khondeli, the director, herself Albanian and Belgian, takes the role of Stela, the main protagonist, and brings a portrayal of a family of Albanian origin in Brussels. Stela goes back to her mother Maria’s home to attend her grandmother’s funeral. Nothing has changed in the family apartment. Far from being overwhelmed, the mother Maria, is scared, thinking the grandmother had been poisoned. The trauma of being followed under the regime of Enver Hoxha in Albania resurges in Maria in these difficult times. She slowly drags her daughter, Stela, into her paranoia, dragging us as spectators in as well. Is she paranoid or is it reality? The movie closes on this open question. The last words “Ka me kalu” It will pass / It will get better are an echo of writings from the medieval Persian Sufi poets “This too shall pass”, reminding us of the temporary nature of our human condition and how nothing lasts forever.
The movie also questions the mother/daughter relationship and the inheritance of traumas through generations, especially in the context of exile. Traumas have to be exposed, overcome, healed. “It is part of our history, it is no longer my reality”, said Flonja Khondeli. The memory work needs to be accomplished. We need to break the cycle and avoid the eternal return of traumas, it calls us to burn our fear, express it, tell it openly, heal our wounds.
“VERA DREAMS OF THE SEA”
Three generations of women under the same roof: Vera, her mother, and her grandmother. Vera, a sign language interpreter and the wife of a renowned judge, finds her routine completely destroyed by the suicide of her husband. Her so seemingly structured life has crashed. She goes back to her husband’s home village to look for the modest family house he had. Instead of finding support or grief from the family that lives there, she feels awkward: everything seems to have been set up. Everything is emptied, cleared, and there are papers ready to be signed. Everybody wants her to transfer the property to a cousin though she wants her daughter to inherit it, as it should be. It is one of the only “assets” left by her husband, therefore she wants to secure her daughter and her granddaughter. However, an elderly family member says something that resonates throughout the movie: “In our region, a daughter has never inherited a house”.
This movie is about many things and has several layers and facets through which the director, Kaltrina Krasniqi, wanted to display a larger image of the Kosovar society, still in search of their own identity. In the 2021 interview she gave in Venice during La Biennale di Venezia, the director said that this movie is about the life of a woman who is of a certain age not often portrayed in movies and theater plays. It is about giving back agency to a woman entirely stripped of it, having had others – men – decide for her. And it is also about a woman who is a sign-language interpreter – a voice for the voiceless. These concepts are very intriguing, and yet very burdensome for the women we know, women we are, women that will come after us. But these layers, so deeply rooted in patriarchy, are still here and so heavy to get rid of.
Even though Vera seemingly has the agency and the power to decide what to do with the house, her husband’s family still puts a lot of pressure on her to transfer the property. Upon her return to Prishtina, she feels scared. Has she been followed by someone? Random, caller unknown calls start to come frequently at unexpected hours. She feels followed; someone wants something bad for her. She receives a blackmail video showing the bad behaviors and vices of her dead husband. Being proud, she refuses to give in. She knows her husband wasn’t an angel, but she does not care about reputation now that he is dead. Should the reputation of her dead husband be more valuable than the future of her daughter and granddaughter?
She gets paranoid when her granddaughter is picked up from kindergarten earlier than usual by a supposed friend. Luckily, it turns out it was just her daughter’s boyfriend. Was it all just paranoia though? Is this threat going further? Vera is mad at her daughter, asking many questions such as: “who is this boyfriend, is it not too soon to show him to her granddaughter?”; “What example are you giving her?”. Her daughter responds: “What example did you set for me?”; “Wash, iron, and shut up!”; “Quiet, you might get slapped!”. The daughter questions whether her mother really set her an example. She challenges the resignation of her mother her entire life. Through these very harsh accusations, Kaltrina Krasniqi brings a very raw portrayal of women’s daily lives, their inherited values, and even patriarchal slogans. What do we transfer to our children?
What do we transfer if not material inheritance? At some point in the movie, Vera says that her mother transferred sign language to her. As women, we also transfer values, a form of courage; mothers empower their daughters. In an intimate atmosphere of one isolated family, there is a universal portrait of all of society. Through this touching movie, we face reality about the deeply anchored gender issues of our times. Does this harsh reality still prevail?
The sterile surroundings of a hospital room. A bulky hospital bed. A woman with a blindfold and a white cane. The theater performance “Molly”, written by the Irish playwright Brian Friel and directed by Sibel Abdiu unfolds as Molly unfolds her bandages. Molly has been blind since birth, but her husband and a surgeon believe something might be done to restore her sight.
Molly’s character is that of a very strong woman. She has to deal with two men who are pushy and want to change her. In the end, they manage to find a solution. The surgery is initially a success and Molly regains her sight. However, seeing “a white light that hurts” at first, Molly slowly realizes that she does not like the life she sees. Her life before was more beautiful than what she sees now, and so she ponders her previous life and her sight slowly worsens again as she returns to her previous life. By the end, she is in an asylum suffering from psychological troubles.
Restoring Molly’s sight ruined her imagination. This is the most striking thing we come to realize. Very often we are biased and patronizing towards blind people, not thinking their reality might be even better than ours. The leading actress, Verona Koxha, shared the process of the play and some of the effects on her after it: “I changed my mindset about blind people, because we always think they are missing out, but in fact, we’re missing out, because we already see everything, we have our vision, and they have their imaginary world that is beautiful and rich.” This play impacted Koxha a great deal, saying that now when she sees a blind person, she doesn’t feel bad for them, but rather admires them, reflecting on how they can see a lot. They, indeed, have a wholly different perspective.
The lights were masterfully done, they created a special rhythm that mixed between blackouts and Molly’s haunting stare. For the leading actress, eyes were the most difficult part because she needed to be very precise, but also to think of what to do and what to say. Acting is about learning, enriching, changing.
The ending is like the opposite scene from the very beginning. Molly unfolded her bandages in the first scene, but now her husband and doctor are putting them on, blindfolding themselves before the lights go dim, because they failed her and caused her pain and suffering. The play addresses a special form of violence that should be further tackled by society and the relevant institutions.
CHILLS, THRILLS, AND GLITTER
For Saturday night, the FemArt Festival reserved a drag show performance in Servis Fantazia, by fierce drag queens Vanessa Sins, Agatha Bones, and Victoria Owns. With their energy and charisma, they lit the atmosphere in the bar that was full of fans of chills and thrills and pop music. After a couple of music choices and lip-syncing, accompanied by daring choreography from our dancing queens, in the second part, the queens themselves brought out pop delicacies from their favorite pop queens, so that we had a chance to dance together to Madonna, Britney, Lady Gaga and others. We set ourselves completely free and vibrated authentic victory.