Zana

 

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A requiem enmeshed within a drama involving other issues about life in Kosovo.

 
Zana

   
Antonieta Kastrati the director and co-writer of Zana may live in Los Angeles but she comes from Kosovo where this film was shot so what we have on screen can be regarded as an insider's view of life there. The story that she has chosen to tell centres on Lume (Adriana Matoshi) who lives in a village with her husband Ilir (Astrit Kabashi). Even more significant is the fact that she shares the house with her mother-in-law, Remzije (Fatmire Sahiti), who is the dominant figure in the family. Ilir may expect Lume to see him as her boss and master, but because he himself is pampered it is Remzije who really carries weight in the household and is central in propagating the idea that her son should look for a second wife due to Lume's failed attempts to give him a child.

 

Although a doctor has been consulted over Lume's failure to conceive, the family turn for help to other sources. Remzije takes Lume to see a local healer (Irena Cahani) who is something of a cross between a fortune teller and a witch and subsequently advice is also sought from a televangelist, Dr Murati (Mensur Safqiu). As set up for us, Kastrati's film is intent on showing the plight in which Lume finds herself but it is also a portrait of her village. The one which was chosen as the shooting location was in fact the very village that Kastrati came from and we are shown very clearly how the technology of the modern world has not eliminated age-old superstitious beliefs and rituals but instead exists alongside them. There is, however, also a third element in the mix. Despite the fact that Lume does eventually find that she is pregnant after all, there is great stress on a key traumatising event in her past. The story takes place in 2009 and thus ten years after the Kosovo war had ended but we learn that at that time Lume had had a young daughter who had been killed. Late in the film a flashback sequence actually shows this death, but the shadow of the past, of the war and of this incident in particular has already been hinted at much earlier.

 

The acting in Zana is accomplished and the film has patently been made as a labour of love, but as the tale develops its impact is unfortunately less than one would expect. The various threads tend to clash rather than to combine tellingly. Given the social issues and the powerful emotional impact of Lume's situation, the emphasis on the suggestion that she is possessed by a jinn is built up to an extent that distracts somewhat - at times the idea that she has entirely been taken over by the spirit makes this film come close to echoing the world of The Exorcist and that seems an inappropriate distraction. The old beliefs that persist are relevant but seem to take over the film here. Thereafter it leads into a final section that is something of a descent into madness but this is drawn out and feels melodramatic rather than moving.

 

This element is so given its head that it pushes to the back the theme of the war's horrors although that surely ought to be at the heart of things. Its importance is further evidenced by the fact that, although the characters here are fictional, a real-life tragedy lies behind Zana. Antonieta Kastrati made this film with her sister Sevdije who has credits as both photographer and co-producer and linked to that is the dedication which appears most touchingly at the close of the film: "In memory of our mother and sister killed in the Kosovo War". That statement is a testimony to how deeply felt this film is and yet, sadly, it re-enforces my feeling that the film has somewhat gone awry because the centrality of Lume's bereavement is to some extent lost even if the last scene relates to it and explains the film's title.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Adriana Matoshi, Astrit Kabashi, Fatmire Sahiti, Mensur Safqiu, Vedat Bajrami, Irena Cahani, Shengyl Ismaili, Çun Lajçi, Ilire Vinca Celaj, Bislim Muçaj.

 

Dir Antoneta Kastrati, Pro Casey Cooper Johnson, Screenplay Antoneta Kastrati and Casey Cooper Johnson, Ph Sevdije Kastrati, Pro Des Burim Arifi and Shawn D. Bronson, Ed Antoneta Kastrati with Brett W. Bachman, Music Dritero Nikqi, Costumes Stela Laknori.

 

Crossing Bridges/Alief/On Film-Matchbox Films.
97 mins. Kosovo/Albania. 2019. Rel: 2 April 2021. Available on BFI Player. Cert. 15.