A Review of Requiem for Kosova

The short film, Requiem for Kosova (Refren per Kosoven), packs a powerful emotional punch in its 20 minute running time.  The drama, written and directed by the immensely talented Dhimitri Ismailaj, has received high praise on the international film circuit, deservedly winning awards at multiple festivals. 

On the surface, it follows the story of a young Albanian girl trying to survive in post-war Kosova, dreaming of her deceased mother and imagining that she can rendevous with her again among the fairies ("zana") she believes live in the distant mountains on the horizon, just like in the storybooks she reads. 

Her dreams are contrasted by a harsh reality where having a successful future is already a battle against the odds. Beneath the surface, the film is a critique of the plight of Kosova, still struggling for unified global recognition of its sovereignty, still rebuilding after the brutality of war.  Even though the movie tells a fictional account, it feels all too real as the horrific plot of organ trafficking is ripped from the headlines, giving it a human face. 

Little Fatmira, played to perfection by Kaona Sylejmani, sees the world through the eyes of an innocent child, where fairies are real and the hope of a magical world within reach is something that keeps her going.  She lives in a world ruled by money and plagued with danger.  A taxi driver (portrayed by the excellent Ramadan Malaj) refuses to drive her to the mountains where she imagines her dead mother is waiting for her, unless she can scrounge up 100 euros.  The young boys in her neighborhood try to steal the candy she sells, taunting her, chasing her, and calling her names. 

Seemingly everywhere, signs announce positive messages from the United Nations, but are contradicted by the everyday struggles and impoverishment that still exists in Fatmira's world.  Through it all, Fatmira puts up a brave front, showing a strength and determination beyond her years. The nonlinear editing might be jarring to some viewers, but it creates an effective dreamlike quality for the story -- nightmarish, but at the same time hauntingly surreal and enticing.

The antagonist of the story, "Mrs. U.N.," (played by Arijeta Ajeti) is not without sympathy, as she herself faces heartache and tries to save her own daughter's life, but in the end she commits selfish and deplorable actions, using money and power at her disposal to propagate an illicit blackmarket driven by the desperate need to save young lives at the ironic cost of threatening so many other young ones.

Ben Wolf does a fine job with the cinematography and the supporting cast are very believable in their roles, especially Blerta Syla as Fatmira's aunt, Bislim Mucaj as Dr. Ylli, and Mentor Zymberaj as Dr. Vladimir.

As the title suggests, Requiem for Kosova is not just a mournful tale of an innocent child searching for a lost paradise, it is also a metaphor for an entire country and its people trying to find their place in a not so innocent world.

Requiem for Kosova recently screened at the Producers Club in Manhattan and will be featured in more international film festivals in the months ahead.