BOTA – A sweet, sad song to the past and a nostalgic, hopeful melody to the future

Movie Review by Albana Karakushi

On Sunday May 31st, at 7Pm I went on a very unusual trip to the past. I saw the Albanian film BOTA (The World), directed by Iris Elezi & Thomas Logoreci, premiering at the Museum of Moving Image premiering during the Panorama Europe Film Festival 2015. The Albanian Institute New York and it’s director Dino Korca made possible that audiences in NYC not only had the ability to see for the first time an Albanian film become part of this Festival in its 7th year but also get to hear first hand from director Iris Elezi at the Q & A after the screening.

The first few minutes were unsettling. The scenes and music were calling me back to a world I had left and did not want to go back to, not unprepared at any rate. It has been two decades since I left Albania and the movie, with the speed of turning a projector, brought glimpses of that world back to life. I felt as though I were in Lagje 5 P 19/5, but I am personalizing it and digressing.

The movie takes place in the marshlands of Albania in a former camp for interned individuals “enemies” of the communist regime. The storyline is beautiful and deceptively simple at first. Juli (Flonja Kodheli) the main character manages and waits on a bar called Bota and owned by her cousin.

The bar is positioned alone on the side of a road that seems to come from and lead nowhere in particular. Bota, with its simple decorations, small radio with a metal hanger antenna, a makeshift love-space on the roof, a hiding place from the sun and Christmas lights to soften the darkness of the night, frame charmingly this curious world of trapped but free spirited characters. Only the owner of the bar Beni (Artur Gorishti) who thanks to his crooked ways has gotten the means to live outside of the bleak dilapidated buildings seems to live in both worlds as it suits him. His mistress, the colorful and free spirited Nora (Fioralba Kryemadhi), 26 years old and a waitress at Bota, contrasts with Juli in her choices and lightness and carefree nature. Her appearance and moments on the screen give the viewer time to take some deep breaths until the next heavy short-of-breath moment comes along. Another very important character is Juli’s grandmother (Tinka Kurti) who brings the old generation back to the screen with a similar nostalgia as the songs that accompany the movie.

The Bota Bar is looking forward to better days as the project for a tiny two-way one-line highway is about to finish. The Italian character Filippo (Luca Lionello) in charge of the road project is particularly funny because he gets a lot of attention from Beni. It is not a surprise after all because Albania of the past was a place where anyone or anything foreign, even a soda can, a shoe, an article of clothing brought in illegally by people or nature would make news and cause excitement. That is not to say that the attention that the characters pay to him is not logical/profitable etc. but it reminds me of times when a foreigner was something novel and special.

The music contrast with the bleak desolation one feels as the story develops. It makes the movie experience akin to a love affair — you are loved, cast away, and loved back again. The music speaks of forbidden loves, the music itself forbidden during communism, forbidden hopes for past generations and sometimes for the current one. It is a movie with subjects that touch on a sad past, with flawed but touchingly and poetically human characters played beautifully by a very talented and well-chosen cast of actors. It is a love affair you can’t miss.

1 MoMi Q & A 4 Jeff Preiss 8 MOMI Reception BENI NORA BOTA, Juli FEDEORA Award 2 MILI, Alban Ukaj NOJE, Tinka Kurti

SEEfest award 1

Albanian born Iris Elezi studied film theory and criticism, anthropology and women’s studies before completing her film production studies at NYU in 2001.
​ ​​ Her editing and directing skills on the award-winning six-part documentary series Under Construction (2007) resulted in the Films That Matter selection for the episode Disposable Heroes.
 Her feature debut, BOTA, premiered at the prestigous Karlovy Vary film festival and won the FEDEORA critics award. Bota also triumphed in the Reykjavik Intl. Film Festival, winning both the FIPRESCI and the Audience Award. ​ In its USA tour this spring, Bota, was nominated for Golden Gate award by the longest running US festival, San Francisco Film Festival, and won two awards at SEEFest – South East European film festival in Los Angels. Bota’s New York City premiere at Panorama Europe Film festival ​was ​ at​ the renown Museum of Moving Image, marking ​not only Albania’s 1st time ever inclusion in this important NYC showcase, but was also a reminder of the victory of arts against current geopolitical borders. Iris Elezi continues to live and work in the Albanian capital of Tirana where she teaches film history and analysis. Together with archivist Regina Longo and partner, Thomas Logoreci, they co-founded The Albanian Cinema Project, an initiative that aims at restoring and raising awareness about the endangered Albanian National Film Archive.
 She conducted a 90 minute masterclass with Francis Ford Coppola during Durres International Summerfest 2011 and weekly masterclasses during Dokufest 2011 with Mohsen Makhmalbaf and James Longley among others.