Hive review – Kosovan war widow dealing with sting of grief in richly intelligent film

Every shot counts in drama about woman’s fight against violent local men to survive and provide for her children in the wake of war

Blerta Basholli’s award-winning debut feature is a film about honey and also about ajvar, a sweet dish from the former Yugoslavia made from aubergines and red peppers. But the film tastes fierce and sharp, like black coffee.

It is based on the true story of Fahrije Hoti, a Kosovan woman whose husband went missing during the Balkan wars of the 90s, and so just to stay alive and provide for her children, she formed a women-only collective with all the other war widows (or presumed widows, longing for definitive news of what Serb forces did with their missing husbands) making honey and other delicacies to sell. But the film shows her facing brutal misogyny and violence from the men in her village who feel she is getting above herself. (The drama comes with a closing disclaimer emphasising that some of it is fictional, I suspect to pre-empt lawsuits.)

Albanian-born Kosovan actress Yllka Gashi is excellent as Fahrije herself, a woman who started this business at least partly to manage or exorcise her grief: the hive in their garden was set up by her husband. This is her way of staying close to his memory; she remembers how instinctive his touch was with the bees and how he never got stung. Fahrije, on the other hand, is always getting stung, and this is partly why she switches largely to ajvar; each sting is a reminder.

There is a marvellous scene in which Fahrije’s young son is thoughtfully combing his hair in front of the mirror, with some adolescent stirrings of vanity, perhaps. Watching him, Fahrije suddenly smiles, with transparent love and pain, and without needing to be told we can see she thinks he resembles his father. Her own father-in-law Haxhi (a great performance from veteran Kosovan actor and musician Çun Lajçi) is a glowering figure, dealing with agony and grief in his own way, but gradually coming to value Fahrije. This is a richly intelligent drama, in which every word and every shot counts.

• Hive is released on 18 March in cinemas.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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