Frameland Recommends: Bota
“Damaged yet alive,” is how one character typifies the citizens of Bota to an outsider. Too poor to leave, so they’re stuck there. Damaged by the Communist past in a very specific way, that is however difficult to explain. But, at least they are alive, and they keep going. They have to. It’s a bittersweet sentiment, that characterises Iris Elezi’s and Thomas Logoreci’s bittersweet Bota (2014).
In a way, this feels like an allegory for the whole of Albania. The Communist past and its remnants loom large over the present in direct and indirect ways: From the willful suppression of the memories of past (government) oppression to the wrecks of cars strewn throughout the landscape. Including one that inexplicable resides on the roof of the café also called Bota – quite literally a remnant of the past looming over the future of the protagonist. July and Nora work at the café, which is owned by Beni, July’s cousin who also happens to have an affair with Nora.
Bota is the Albanian word for ‘the world,’ a fitting name for a place that encapsulates the whole of Albania and yet also feels outside of the world entirely (much like Albania once was nearly completely cut off from the rest of the world, during the darkest days of Enver Hoxha‘s oppressive regime). The same is true for the café, which lies in the middle of nowhere and hardly attracts any customers. A road is being built nearby by an Italian investor, representing western capital, but it remains to be seen if any of the Albanian locals will benefit, aside from some temporary physical labour.
Though Beni is the owner and manager of the place, July practically runs it. By all rights, she should own the place, but she doesn’t know this, as Beni has swindled her out of her inheritance to pay off debts he has accrued in past failed schemes. July’s grandmother condones Beni lying to July, because telling July about the money that is rightfully hers would mean facing up to the painful truths of the past.
At times, it feels as if there is no future in the Albania of Bota. Both the old and the young die, while others move away. As the shadows of the past loom large, ghosts dance eternally on what is effectively a gravesite (in one of Bota‘s most enduring and poetic images). What little money there is that could help create a better future, is embezzled by egotists. Yet, at the same time, there resides such strength and resilience in the two main female protagonists. It gives hope for a better future, even though the road ahead is unclear, unpaved and seemingly impossible to traverse. A hope against all odds, that is not a naive hope but a hope that is combined with a sense of resignation, ever wavering between those two opposite ends, that make Bota such a bittersweet experience.