Sundance Film Review: Hive
Director: Blerta Basholli
Premiere: 01.31, 1:00 p.m.
A little humility every once in a while can be a very good thing, and I for one needed to be smacked in the face with the fact that, even now, during these trying times, our problems are very much first-world problems. Hive is a smack in the face that manages to be both devastating and inspiring, as well as profoundly moving.
Hive is based on a true story and takes place in a tight-knit little community in Kosovo, where families are struggling just to make ends meet as they try to wait patiently for news of husbands, fathers and sons who were ripped away from them by the war. Fahrije (Yllka Gashi, Familje Moderne, Kukumi) has been waiting for years, and while she tries to support the family with beekeeping, as her husband did, the bees simply aren’t producing any honey. Fahrije goes outside her own comfort zone and the accepted norms of society by getting a driver’s license so that she can set up a small business selling ajvar, a popular Serbian red pepper sauce, to a local grocery store. Fahrije’s ingenuity and ambition challenge the conservative townspeople, who are steadfast on traditional roles and patriarchal expectations. She disregards insults, gossip and even physical attacks to empower a community of women to be self-reliant and independent in order to survive together, and in the process surprises everyone (especially herself).
Hive is a slow build, but it’s a riveting film that is both heartbreaking and empowering. Director Blerta Basholli keeps things grounded in reality, putting us right there with Fahrije and her family, as well as the other women who join her in her bold endeavor, as they become worker bees assisting their Queen. Gash is sublime in the lead role, giving a quiet and realistic performance that never feels like a performance, but is nevertheless the work of a skilled actress embodying a woman who is far stronger than any of the action heroines we see on screen. Cun Lajci, as Fahrije’s aging and decrepit father in law, Haxhi, gives one of my favorite performances in recent history as a stubborn, conservative man trying to keep his son alive through sheer determination and who resents Fahrije’s controversial choices but slowly begins to appreciate her heroism in keeping the family alive and together.
The haunting musical score by Julian Painot (Love in Progress, Kombinat) is somber but beautiful in its own way, and is effectively used in several key moments to jolt us back into the reality of the heavy sorrow that is hanging over these people at all times. There are so many moments when this story becomes universal and the family problems and life events are relatable to anywhere, but then we are reminded that this story doesn’t take place just anywhere, and so many of the things these characters face every day are beyond our comprehension. Hive affected me on a visceral and personal level as someone whose staunch feminism started because of my respect for my mother and the things she persevered through in a unfairly male-dominated society, and that was here in America, as opposed to a place where a woman driving results in a rock through the car window and being called a whore. But Fahrije only grows more resolute in the face of opposition, and she already ranks among my all-time favorite film characters.
Hive is a film that more than deserves to be seen—it needs to be seen. It’s is likely to stand out as one of the best films I will see at Sundance, or perhaps anywhere, this year. –Patrick Gibbs