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Rating: 4 out of 5.

A woman’s sanity is shaken by the losses of war in Kosovan psychodrama Zana

Ten years after the Kosovan war Lume (Adriana Matoshi) lives a humble life in a farming community with her husband Ilir (Astrit Kabashi) and mother in law Remzije (Fatmire Sahiti.) Since the death of her daughter during the war she has been haunted by nightmares of her loss that often leave her sleepwalking, and she has been unable to have another child. Lume’s infertility is a constant source of needling by her husband and mother in law, who drag her from medical doctor to local witch to televangelist ”healer” in an attempt to cure her, and even threaten to have her replaced with a younger (more fertile) wife. But as the obsession with her having another child grows, Lume’s unaddressed trauma rises to the surface and constantly throws her families plans awry.

Zana is the debut fictional feature from Kosovar documentary maker Antoneta Kastrati who wrote and directed the film in conjunction with her sister Sevdije acting as cinematographer. It’s a deeply personal film for the director, who dedicates it to her mother and sister who died in the war. Whilst researching the story she travelled the Kosovan countryside interviewing women about their losses, many of whom told her of the nightmares of lost children that still haunt them to this day. Whilst Zana may be the story of one woman’s struggles, it rings with the truth of many.

Kastrati presents the odd dichotomy of a country caught between the old world and the new. Smart phones and youtube are as ever present as they are in the rest of the world, yet fortune tellers, witchcraft and superstition are all still a strongly believed force in this community. They’re handled seriously, never mocked or presented like a horror movie fiction, yet slowly we are allowed to see how these beliefs are just another method of control used to subjugate Lume. The real ”horror” being how she is treated by her family rather than the magical effects of any of the spells or exorcisms she is subjected to.

For all that we quickly learn that witchcraft isn’t the real source of Lume’s troubles, some good old fashioned horror tropes are used cleverly to convey the horrors of the Kosovan war. Lume’s nightmares are deeply disturbing; she hears babies crying and witnesses shrouded, blood covered figures in scenes that are reminiscent of Rosemary’s Baby but are revealed to be distorted memories. A scratchy and carefully hidden old VHS tape turns out to contain footage of bodies being exhumed for NATO investigations. In an emotional memorial scene we learn that there are no pictures of her lost daughter because her house was destroyed in a bombing. It’s heartbreaking stuff.

As much as Zana delves into the lasting effects of the war on this family, it also manages to carry a hard hitting message about the damaging effects of negative gender roles on their recovery. The obsession with Lume providing her family with another child, in complete contradiction to what the poor woman wants herself, is a maddening indictment on how they see her role within society. Her husband, mother in law and wider family all stubbornly ignore the fact that she has lost a child. Her name is never spoken throughout the film, her tragic existence swept under the rug and Lume’s grief is continually attributed to evil spirits or curses. The fact that Lume seems to be slowly losing her mind is agonisingly believable in these circumstances and tragic for all the ways in which no one seems to want to help her.

Matoshi is quietly powerful in the central role, her stone face perfectly portraying the all consuming grief that her restrictive family will not allow her to voice. Zana’s human trauma is contrasted against beautifully shot pastoral scenes and an atmospheric atonal score that serve to heighten the intense sense of loneliness and isolation that creeps in throughout.

Building to a devastating finale that is sure to leave audiences shaken, Zana is a truly haunting film that manages to capture the horrors of a recent war and the grief of those left behind without delving into melodrama. A well crafted and compelling piece of work from newcomer Antoneta Kastrati, she is surely one to watch.

Zana gets it’s long awaited UK release on April 2nd 2021. It will be available to watch on BFI Player, Curzon At Home, and via the Barbican

By Danielle Measor

Movies and madness!

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