Blerta Basholli, writer and director of Hive, joins her star Yllka Gashi, and Awards Daily‘s Shadan Larki to discuss bringing the harrowing true story to the screen and honoring the women of Kosovo in the process.
Fahrije’s husband has gone missing after the war in Kosovo. With fading hope for his return and the mounting needs of her family, Fahrije goes against the wishes of the men in her patriarchal village and starts her own business selling homemade food products.
Hive is Fahrije’s story—one of tremendous loss, but also one of grit and determination. With patience, Fahrije wins over the bees in her hive, and the presumed-widowed women of her village, empowering them to join her and make a better life for themselves.
It took Blerta Basholli ten years to bring the film, a true story to the screen, and in her directorial debut, Basholli displays patience of her own, unfolding Hive slowly and never flinching away from the omnipresent grief that surrounds her actors—chiefly her lead, the terrific Yllka Gashi, who delivers a raw and heartbreaking performance.
As Basholli says, “there is no black and white.” And what she has delivered with Hive is a film that captures the complexities of family obligation and maintaining tradition, and what happens when that collides with the very human need to move forward. That is what makes Hive such a tremendous achievement. In addition to capturing their resilience in the face of life-altering sorrow, Hive allows us to see the inner-lives of these women with dignity and compassion. And captures the joy of community. A beautiful tribute.
Hive is one of fifteen films short-listed for Best International Feature Film at the 2022 Oscars and deservedly so.
Awards Daily: I read that Hive has been in development since 2011. How did the film come to be?
Blerta Basholli: Well, it is true in a way; Ten years ago, when I was studying in New York, I heard the story about a woman who had lost her husband during the war and was working and getting a driving license. I come from Kosovo; still, I was surprised. I was talking to my then-boyfriend, now husband, who saw the story. He was like, “We should really go meet this woman and see if we can make a film about her.” Initially, I thought it [could] be a satirical, comic approach.I had worked on a satirical story with Yllka just recently. So, I called Yllka and told her. I cast Yllka before even starting to write, before even having the rights to the story. We went together to meet Fahrije, and meeting her in person, really changed the approach that I initially thought I would have to this story because of how strong she was, and how interesting she was. She blew my mind when I met her.
[The film] still does have some funny moments because that’s how these women are in real life. And I wanted to use that as well. This [is] certainly a very interesting story, but the more interesting part of it is her personality, strength, and power to do all of this. I wanted to portray that on-screen, and I wanted this woman on a big screen.
It was after the first meeting that we really decided in the approach and what kind of film this is going to be. Fahrije accepted immediately to work with us. It was easier because Yllka is a very good actress and a very well-known actress. She was honored to be represented by Yllka. Fahrije talked to us for many hours, even in the first meeting.
Then, I had to finish my degree, I had two kids, and I was working on many projects, but always with Hive in mind. That’s why I think it’s important to fall in love with a story and really live with it. We did live with this character for quite a while before starting to write the script and actually starting to develop it. It took us five to six years to make [the film] happen because of the funding, scripted allotment, and everything else because we come from a country with a very low budget.
The most important part of it was that Fahrije was always with us. And for me, of course, I doubted whether we’d be able to make Hive. But honestly, I never doubted my love for this project, and I think that’s what keeps you going— in the writing process, developing sets, editing, and now promoting it. Everybody says that you have to love a story and believe in it, and I cannot stress enough how important that is. So, this was really a pleasure, a long journey, but a pleasure to work on this story.
AD: Fahrije is experiencing such profound grief, but she doesn’t outwardly express her emotions. She has subtle moments, the scene where she cries in the shower is renching, but even in those moments where she wants to cry, she has immediately compose herself.
Basholli: Well, you know, when we met Fahrije, she told us what happened to her during and after the war, most of us there, were more in tears than her. Yllka calls it her poker face. She was telling [it] as if she was telling somebody else’s story. At some point, I asked Fahrije, “Did you cry? It must have been hard to go through that.” And she said, “Yes, I cried. I cried every morning, and then I would wipe my tears and go to work.”
And that, for me, was strong because portraying a woman on screen who doesn’t talk a lot, who doesn’t express a lot, feels like a superhero. She can do it all. She was a superhero, but we wanted a human superhero who is believable. Someone the audience believes in because when you see it in the film, it’s hard to believe what she went through and how she dealt with all of that. So, we stayed true to who she was and we wanted to touch upon those aspects.
But also, we knew that in general, it wasn’t in our culture to be very open about our emotions. Especially for women like Fahrije, crying and saying how you feel about your grief was like a luxury. When Fahrije said that she cried a lot and was crying in the morning when everybody was sleeping and couldn’t see her, she would wipe her tears and then continue on and stay strong, [I] remember[ed] my mother. I never thought my mother could get scared when my brother and I left with her during the war.
Now that I have kids, I’m like, “She must have been really scared doing that.” Passing the police, passing the army and everything with her kids, and leaving two other kids at home who couldn’t leave. It must have been horrible. And yet, I never realized that she was afraid, let alone see her crying. I’m sure she cried a lot. Of course, everybody does. And it’s okay. But they hid that. Partially because they couldn’t cry, they couldn’t express, partially because they wanted to stay strong for their children.
I thought that was really powerful. I wanted to keep that and stay fanatic about portraying Fahrije the way she was.
AD: Yllka, how was it for you to play Fahrije? How did you capture her stoicism in your performance?
Yllka Gashi: I agree with everything that Blerta said because in our culture now, things are, of course, very different. We express more. We are open to talking about our past, our lives, things that bother us, our dreams, etc.
But we grew up as kids in the nineties. And it was a difficult time to be a kid in Kosovo with the political situation, war was just around the corner, and our parents weren’t happy. But Albanian women, especially women of our mothers’ generations, are strong women. They have this stoic attitude. And just as Blerta said, they did not show that much emotion. God knows what they have been through, what they were thinking, or the problems they were dealing with. But, in our culture, women do not show that much. They keep it to themselves because you have to be strong. The mom is the pillar of the family, the house, everything. It’s like an institution, a sacred institution. And we knew that from our moms, grandmothers, and our aunts. We understood that psychology. So, it wasn’t that hard to portray that part because we could dig into that. We have been raised like that by women who were just like Fahrije.
Of course, as an actor, I’m an expressive person. It was interesting because I had to tame my expressiveness, and the camera was so close, and it felt interesting to keep that stoicism that I did not know that I had. I’m being completely honest. But it was also empowering. It was amazing. I felt like her. I believed I understood her pain. I understood her desires, dreams, and her needs. So, it was interesting.
AD: I loved Fahrije’s relationship with her father-in-law, Haxhi [Çun Lajçi]. He had this warmth and softness that the other men in the village did not. He was caught between wanting to support his family and maintaining tradition. What can you tell me about the complexities of that relationship and what you wanted to depict?
Basholli: I love that relationship as well. For me, he reminds me of my father. Fahrije’s father-in-law was supportive. I think people are complex and I wanted to explore that complexity in an older man who’s dealing with pain, with the inability to help her more, with tradition, and wanting to support her.
Everything was pointed at Fahrije, but Haxhi was also caught in this triangle of feeling pain for his son and the need to know more about what happened to him. He wanted to help Fahrije, but was physically not able to, and was held back by traditional a bit as well.
For me, that was really interesting. I have a good relationship with my father; we communicate, now we talk more, but when we were younger, when it came to more personal things, it would be maybe short sentences of my father trying to console me. But, it’s not that I could sit down to him and talk about my relationships. Even that one sentence from him meant the world to me. I would always say my father doesn’t say much, but when he says something, it really makes a big change.
I wanted to explore that complex relationship because there were people who helped Fahrije. Some women were against her and resisted joining her. And eventually did. There were other women who joined her from the beginning and were very supportive and without whom she couldn’t make it, and be who she is today. There were also men who helped her, and there were men who wanted to stop her and were aggressive toward her.
I just really wanted to show all the sides because this society is complex. It’s a post-war society. It’s a patriarchal society even today, but there’s no black and white, always; it’s a mixture.
AD: Yllka, how did you feel working with Çun and portraying the nuances of that relationship?
Gashi: Oh, I loved it. Çun is an amazing actor. We worked together before in theater, he played my father in the play. He’s [been] an actor for almost 50 years now. Lots of films, TV, and theater. So, it was joyful to work with him.
And even though the scenes that we had, most of them were very emotional, Çun was just there. He was present, and having a partner like that makes things easier because playing those emotional scenes, it’s never easy. It drains you as an actor. It gets the best out of you, and trying to hold the emotion and being in the moment is tricky because sometimes they need to set something up or light a different angle. It’s hard; it’s difficult. But Çun was amazing. I think he did a beautiful job.
AD: Absolutely. Fahrije is a beekeeper, the title of the film, Hive, in part, represents her bee colony But, it also refers to Fahrije’s community—her friends and co-workers in the village.
There’s a beautiful scene in the movie where the group comes together to work with dancing and music that provides a moment of joy and catharsis for the women, and for the viewer.
Basholli: Yes. Fahrije, told me, “When we would gather together, one woman or another would start telling the story. We’d heard it 10,000 times, and everybody would start crying. We would just cry every time we would get together.”
And she’s like, “We were going crazy. We could not afford to go crazy because we had children to raise and provide for them economically.”
Fahrije said, “Whenever a woman would start talking, I would play music, start a dance, and sometimes, maybe even dress like a bride and make jokes.” It was amazing how a person in the same situation as all the other women found the strength to entertain them and convince them she could handle everything.
She told me, “ I was not calm, I was in pain, and bees can feel that they were stinging me all the time. I was trying to convince women to start working, join me, and not cry anymore. And if I was aggressive to [the women], they were like bees. They would sting me and be aggressive. But, if I would slowly convince them to join me and work because it’s important for us, they slowly joined me.”
I thought that comparison was really smart and interesting. And I wanted to use that in the film. But, also, how you meet these women is really important. This community is really important. They helped each other make it, and they help each other even today. And as Yllka says, they are even funny to talk to. They joke. [That’s] how they coped throughout all these years and all that happened to them.
We wanted that in the film. I wanted the actresses to support each other in the scenes, delivering lines and have that chemistry and bond in the film—not to have to act it. Even if some of the women were difficult, didn’t want to join, or were against Fahrije; after all the pain, that was understandable. How Fahrijedealt with it was amazing.
The dancing scene was amazing to shoot as well.
Gashi: I’m not sure if I remember correctly, but I think when we shot that scene, it was the last scene of the day, and it was pretty late. After midnight probably. And we were very tired. But we had an amazing cast. All of my colleagues that were part of Hive are absolutely brilliant actors and actresses. And it was a joy to work with them. We laughed, really laughed hard. It became hysterical because we were so tired. Kumrije [Hoxha], who plays Nazmije, the old lady, she’s super fun and such an amazing person to have on set. All of them were. Albanian traditional dance is specific, but sometimes in weddings and ceremonies, people go crazy. They change it up a bit, and it becomes funny, and it becomes fun. Kumrije did that. She was changing it up. She also added some extra lines that went perfectly with the atmosphere and the vibe of the scene. It was definitely fun.
AD: Kumrije also has a terrific line where she says, and I’m paraphrasing, “If our husbands were in our position, they would be married to younger women by now.”
Basholli: Yes! I’m glad you heard it because it’s so in the background when she says that about the men being married really quickly with younger women than us. To me, it’s important that a lot of people are noticing that.
When a man dies, or when a man has gone missing, the woman is expected to just be in mourning and not even laugh. If she laughs, she should laugh in her home so nobody sees her. In these kinds of traditional communities, she’s expected to stay at home and mourn and cry. For a man, that’s not expected. They can marry or remarry. They sometimes remarry much younger women than themselves.
These women did not remarry. Their husbands have gone missing. They don’t even want to talk about it. And it is really important to talk about it because many of them lost their husbands a year after they were married. They had no children. They were too young to remain widows for the rest of their lives. That’s a really important issue that I wanted to touch on because it’s different standards for men and women. It’s such a human need to want to continue in every way.
I think it’s really important that we discuss these kinds of issues, because it’s the same in many cultures, unfortunately.
Hive is currently playing in virtual cinemas and will be available to rent or own on all major Digital/VOD platforms starting February 1st, courtesy of Zeitgeist Films in association with Kino Lorber.