RELEASED: Friday 10 August
REVIEW BY: Tom Seymour
A sense of myth and fable hangs to this fraught coming-of-age drama; there’s a timeless, almost Biblical quality to its portrayal of young lives straining against the rusting shackles of patriarchy, honour codes and clan-rule.
LA-bred, director Joshua Marston is a champion of the art film; his silent, elliptical debut Maria Full of Grace took us deep into the heart of Ecuador, while this brooding, distinctly Loachian bildungsroman is moored in modern-day Albania.
Our vessels are teenage siblings Nik (Tristan Halilaj) and Rudina (Sindi Lacej), who become trapped in the confines of their rural home after their father (Refet Abazi) kills the head of a rival family over a land-conflict, making his kids fair-game for a revenge crime. Co-written by native screenwriter Andamion Murataj, it’s apparently a commonplace scenario in this former-victim of the Eastern Bloc.
While the murder happens off screen, Marston and his cinematographer Rob Hardy focus on the fallout with forensic attention. With his father in hiding, Nik must lurk at the edge of his smoky living room as village elders hold court and quarrel about how best to conciliate this blood feud, while Rudina resourcefully continues to deliver bread in a horse-drawn cart before rushing home.
And so, like water coming to a slow boil, these turbulent adolescents begin to tear at the walls that hold them. Again and again, we see Nik staring out at the rolling prairie and rugged mountains that lie at his home’s doorstep. Denied the chance to roam and explore, he begins to creep out and stalk the town in the dead of night. Is he being watched and tracked? Are the sons of the rival family making their own clandestine excursions around Nik’s home?
Marston doesn’t labour the point, but there’s a strong feminist slant to this film. The women in both families are locked out of the ongoing mediation, even as they bear the day to day brunt. As their father slopes back to visit his family, he entrusts Nik with the rifle and tells him – impotently – to protect the family. But it is Rudina who endures death-threats on the streets as she tries to sustain her family’s livelihood and bring food to the table.
The film’s final shot sees the boy walking towards the sunrise as his sister watches on from the roof of their house; he, and by extension his nation, are coming of age. But the mothers, sisters and wives of Albania are left continue on as they were; encased in the home, staring at the horizon.