• Datum 16-01-2014
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A unique encapsulation of the current state of Albanian film occurred several summers ago in the lakeside town of Pogradec. Filmmaker Eno Milkani’s Balkan Film and Food Festival is one of the most unusual cinema gatherings in Eastern Europe. Each country in the region hosts a sumptuous feast by day and screens selected short and feature films during the evening. The closing night screening was Albania’s first post-communist offering to achieve entry into the Berlinale: Bujar Alimani’s tough drama Amnesty.
I had attended the premiere in the capital, Tirana, with the cast and virtually every working Albanian film professional in attendance, along with a smattering of journalists, writers, artists and students. Amnesty tells of a middle-aged couple who begin an affair during conjugal visits to their respective spouses in prison. It was easy to see why it had been accepted by Berlin. Albania’s annual output of two or three films usually apes Western genres, a stale crop of crude comedies, period dramas and gangster knock-offs. Yet Amnesty uses the arthouse mise-en-scene of long takes and lingering silences, ending in tragedy when the couple is gunned down by the woman’s father-in-law. Yet oddly, the final shot — the confused husband discovering his dead wife and her lover — produced howls of laughter at the premiere. What was the intent of the director? I didn’t know.
Alimani partially shot on location in Pogradec, so it seemed apt that every seat in the city’s former cultural palace was filled for the festival screening. However, this audience was a world away from the staid cultural elite that had sat through the premiere. Here, the crowd consisted of old men, teenagers and mothers who held children in their laps. The lights went down, and for the next 83 minutes, the energy was positively electric, the audience talking back to the screen and applauding loudly at recognized landmarks.
Reality sank in. For an audience fed a daily television diet of Turkish, Italian and Spanish telenovelas and with videoshops stocked with American product, Amnesty was a true novelty. For one night only, these Albanian working men and women could see their own lives reflected on the big screen. Even the most internationally acclaimed films made by foreigners about the Albanian experience — Gianni Amelio’s Lamerica, the Dardenne Brothers’ Lorna’s Silence and Joshua Marston’s The Forgiveness of Blood — cannot be found locally.
During that final shot, this audience broke into laughter too — and then thunderous applause. Perhaps, I concluded, the director had masterfully utilized this technique as a release for the intensity of the previous eighty minutes. But Alimani was not present for this eye-opening screening. He was back in the capital city, editing a one-hour television pilot that was ultimately rejected by the network and never shown.

Thomas Logoreci (@thomaslogoreci) is a filmmaker and writer based in Tirana