Author: Branka Pavlovic
Date: 26 February 2009
How often does the international public get to see a film produced from Kosovo? For the film enthusiast interested in “Southeast European cinema” a search for films from Kosovo on the internet doesn’t always generate the most satisfying of results. “Kosovo” is more often associated articles on “violence”, “country status”, “independence” and “succession”. The few links that actually lead to film productions from the area present films about Kosovo from an outsider’s perspective rather than discussing films that have actually been produced within the region.
After the NATO intervention of 1999, Kosovo became an area of interest to writers worldwide. They were eager to tell stories about repression, resistance, perseverance, suffering and hope. Serbian authors, for example, focused on the tragedy of the Serbian minority in Kosovo stuck between the myth and the bitter reality of life in a ghetto. However, the film “Kukumi” directed by the screenwriter Isa Qosja, born in 1947 in Montenegro, was to make history being the first film ever made in Kosovo’s short autonomous life.
Kukumi is a co-production of two film companies, one from Kosovo and one from Croatia. It was produced in 2005. It was shot in only 45 days with a budget of a mere €480,000. Yet “Kukumi” was able to draw the attention of an international audience and won awards at the Venice and Sarajevo Film Festivals in 2006.
The film is set just after NATO forces stopped the Serbian military intervention in Kosovo. After the Serbian soldiers desert the region, the film focuses on the doors of a asylum for mentally ill people in Kosovo which has been left wide open. The former inmates Kukumi (Luan Jaha), Mara (Anisa Ismaili), and Hasan (Donat Qosja) are suddenly facing a world that is actually a lot crazier and more dangerous than they could have ever imagined in the small universe of their asylum. The innocent trio sets out into the devastated landscape to explore and enjoy their newfound freedom. Very soon, they find out that while Kosovo may be free of Serbs, hatred and intolerance among the people remain deeply entrenched. On their journey they meet looters, war profiteers, as well as old patriarchal structures and prejudices. After a while Kukumi, Mara and Hasan realise that the asylum seems to be the only safe place they can come back to. In a supposedly liberated country, Kukumi, Mara, and Hasan find that this short lived reality they have no place they can go.
In an interview taken shortly after the film’s release, director Isa Quosja said: “After the end of the war Kosovo became free. Back then, everyone thought that freedom would enable us to do whatever we want and to go wherever we want - in other words to be free. I thought people who have suffered violence and abuse by the machinery of a notorious regime would have more understanding for the human being, for every kind of situation…but what has actually happened?! People became cruel instead, losing their sympathy and dehumanising freedom by denying it to others…a strange kind of freedom”.
Isolation, prejudice and exclusion – instead of the long awaited saga about suffering under the totalitarian Serbian regime, Isa Qosja’s film “Kukumi” turned out to be a philosophical essay on freedom and human nature; on the insanity of war exceeded only by the insanity of peace.
Qosja’s characters Kukumi (a noble saint who fights against the harsh reality with the help of the sound of his flute) Mara (who never speaks) and silly and impulsive Hasan are roaming the apocalyptic landscape seeking refuge from their deserts inside. They come across abandoned trains and devastated houses. Cinematographer Menduh Nushi's took long tracking shots which are accompanied by a haunting musical score from Naim Krasniqi, echoing Tarkovski’s mysticism and the poetics of Milcho Manchevski’s films. In this painful and senseless world, the mad friends seem to be the only real human beings.
The prizes at the Venice and the Sarajevo film festival in 2006 proved that this enigmatic and lyrically surreal film with almost no dialogue communicates with the public beyond national borders. Freedom, if at all possible, is more a state of mind than a political category. The fact that in spite of its international success “Kukumi” was often criticised and even censored, proves once again that freedom is hard to handle and doesn’t just “happen” overnight.
In the last shot of “Kukumi”, the camera and the spectators are the ones that remain locked behind the bars of the asylum. Hopefully, there will soon be new upcoming filmmakers from Kosovo able to open these doors again and that next time the world outside will be a better one.
Kukumi / The Kukumi
Produced by Gani Mehmetaj.
Directed by Isa Qosja. Screenplay, Mehmet Kraja, Qosja.
The Kukum - Luan Jaha
Mara - Anisa Ismali
Hasan - Donat Qosja
Camera (color), Menduh Nushi; editor, Agron Vula; music, Naim Krasniqi; production designers, Zeri Ballazhi, Afrim Gora; costume designer, Krenare Rugova. Reviewed at Sarajevo Film Festival (competing), Aug. 24, 2005. Running time: 107 MIN
*This article cannot be considered to be in any way an expression by the European Commission on the status of Kosovo and, in particular, does not prejudge the recognition of Kosovo's declaration of independence by the Member States of the European Union.