November 5, 2021
by Carla Hay
Directed by Blerta Basholli
Albanian with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in 2005 in Kosovo, the biographical drama “Hive” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class.
Culture Clash: Based on a true story, a mother in her 30s, who lost her husband in the Kosovo War, forms a small business with other ‘”war widows” to make jars of ajvar (a red pepper) as a creamy condiment spread, but their entrepreneurship gets disapproval from people in the community who think women shouldn’t be business owners.
Culture Audience: “Hive” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in stories about women who have to battle against sexism.
Based on true events, the dramatic film “Hive” takes place in Kosovo in the 2000s, but it speaks to universal experiences of women who overcome discrimination and misogyny to become business entrepreneurs. It’s not a flashy story with larger-than-life personalities, because it’s meant to show that “ordinary” people can do “extraordinary” things with the right amount of persistence and the right people who are allies and supporters. It’s also an inspirational story of how devastating circumstances can often make someone stronger.
Written and directed by Blerta Basholli, “Hive” had its world premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Prize, Directing Award and Audience Award in the festival’s World Cinema section. “Hive” is also Kosovo’s official entry for consideration for the 2022 Academy Awards category of Best International Feature Film. The movie’s protagonist is Fahrije Hoti (played by Yllka Gashi), a Kosovo woman in her 30s who has experienced a tragic loss: Her husband Agim disappeared during the Kosovo War in 1999, and he is presumed dead.
The story begins in 2005, when Fahrije is a single parent in the town of Krusha e Madhe. She’s raising her two children: daughter Zanu (played by Kaona Sylejmani), who’s about 15 or 16, and son Edoni (played by Mal Noah Safçiu), who’s about 10 or 11 years old. Also in the family home is Fahrije’s father-in-law Haxhiu (played by Çun Lajçi), who is 75 years old. Fahrije works as a bee keeper (which was her husband’s business before he disappeared), but the money she makes can barely pay her family’s living expenses.
The opening scene of “Hive” shows the grim aftermath of the war: Fahrije looks through body bags in a government truck to see if her husband is among the bodies. These are bodies that are still being discovered as war casualties. Fahrije is not supposed to be in the truck, and she’s eventually ordered to leave. But it’s an example of her anguish and desperation over not knowing what happened to her husband and trying to find out if he’s dead or alive.
As the movie continues, it becomes more and more apparent that Fahrije has grit, determination and a strong sense of self where she doesn’t kowtow to her community’s widespread patriarchal beliefs that men have to be dominant and in control of everything. And she finds some other women who also believe that a woman can and should have places in society that are equal to men. There are many “war widows” in Krusha e Madhe—so much so that the town has been nicknamed Village of War Widows.
One of the town’s feminists is named Zamira (played by Aurita Agushi), who runs a women’s group that gives financial aid and advice to women in the community. Zamira leads a meeting of local women to encourage them to get their driver’s licenses. Fahrije is at the meeting too. And the next thing you know, Fahrije is taking her driver’s license test, and she’s the only woman in the room.
Getting her driver’s license is the practical thing to do, since Fahrije is the family’s only breadwinner, and having her driver’s license would be a benefit to her business and give her more flexibility in how she and her family can travel by automobile. However, because it’s rare for a woman to have a driver’s license in this community, Fahrije becomes the subject of malicious gossip when people see her driving and working alone.
Zamira’s group is running low on money. At another meeting, Fahrije tells Zamira that the women who are being helped by the group need jobs more than they need handout money. It’s at this meeting that one of the women tells Fahrije about what some of the town gossips have been saying about Fahrije behind her back: “They’re saying if Agim were alive, he would be ashamed of you.” Fahrije storms out of the meeting.
Far from being embarrassed, Fahrije is actually angry that people want to shame her for taking over her husband’s struggling beekeeping business when she has no choice but to provide for her family. It’s implied throughout the movie that Fahrije doesn’t think having a husband will solve her financial problems. She shows no interest in dating or remarrying. The hostility over Fahrije being an independent woman is manifested when she finds one of her car windows has been deliberately broken.
This act of vandalism just seems to fuel Fahrije’s motivation to do something else besides beekeeping to make money. And that’s when she decides to start a business: making jars of ajvar (a red pepper) as a creamy condiment spread. But starting her own business means that some sacrifices have to be made that cause friction in her family.
In order to get the money to start the business, Fahrije sells a table that has sentimental value to the family. Fahrije’s father-in-law Haxhiu and her teenage daughter Zana get very angry about it. Zana yells at her mother, “I hate you with all my heart!” Fahrije sarcastically replies, “Should I cry now?”
Zana snipes back: “You never cry about shit! You’ll cry when dad comes back because he’ll ruin your plans!” This last remark seems to hurt Fahrije’s feelings, but she remains steadfast in her decision to start the business.
Fahrije sells sample jars to a local grocery store after much convincing to get the store to try a new product. The ajvar condiment spread becomes a hit, the word gets out about it, and Fahrije soon needs people to help her keep up with the orders coming in for more jars of her ajvar condiment spread. After a while, Zana sees how the business is helping the family and how it’s brought out a positive spark in her mother, so Zana ends up helping with a few of her teenage friends.
Fahrije also enlists the help of some other women who become her employees; almost all of them are war widows too. They include Nazmije (played by Kumrije Hoxha), Lume (Adriana Matoshi), Emine (played by Molikë Maxhuni) and Edona (played by Blerta Ismaili). They form a sisterly bond that doesn’t always go smoothly because there are some expected disagreements. Their bond gets tested when they face resentment and anger from people in the community who think it’s wrong for women to be business leaders and that it’s even more radical to work at an all-female company.
During the growth of Farhije’s business, the unknown fate of her husband is never far from her mind. She has a difficult conversation with her father-in-law Haxhiu to ask for his DNA because it will help identify Agim if a body matching his description is ever found. Fahrije and Haxhiu have a poignant talk where they reminisce about Agim.
Fahrije says, “He knew how to work with bees. I don’t ever remember him being stung.” Haxhiu comments, “He was a quiet person. Even as a child, he was really calm.” Fahrije adds, “He was really happy when he built the hives himself. I miss him, father.” Haxhiu replies, “I miss him too.” It’s in these private moments that “Hive” has some of its greatest resonance.
A Hollywood version of this story would have probably created an over-the-top villain to be the obvious antagonist who would be intent on destroying Fahrije’s business. “Hive” is more realistic in showing how sexism in a culture isn’t always committed out in the open by obvious villains. This type of bigotry can come from people who are friends, relatives or neighbors who think of themselves as good people. The derogatory comments that are made about Fahrije aren’t said to her face, but she hears about them secondhand, and she sees how certain people treat her with disapproval when she becomes a business owner.
Gashi’s portrayal of Fahrije is also realistic: She’s not a cheerful heroine who’s always optimistic. She’s often stressed-out and sometimes ill-tempered. She has moments of feeling discouraged. And given the circumstances, who wouldn’t be? All of the acting in the movie is solid. By keeping the movie grounded in realism, writer/director Basholli makes Fahrije’s story so much more relatable and thereby more impactful than if the truth had been embellished too much for dramatic purposes.
Zeitgeist Films and Kino Lorber released “Hive” in select U.S. cinemas on November 5, 2021. “Hive” is scheduled for release in U.S. virtual cinemas on December 3, 2021. The movie’s release date on digital and VOD is February 1, 2022.