A window into women’s experiences in Kosovo
Isa Qosja’s latest film ‘Three Windows and a Hanging’ sensitively explores the taboo subject of the aftermath of war rape in Kosovo.
By Adem Ferizaj
If a married Kosovar couple visits another couple in their village, it usually goes as follows: the men sit next to each other and speak loudly; the wives sit together and whisper. If the daughter of the married couple has a boyfriend, she has most probably to keep it secret from her father. Maybe she would tell her mother, but in most cases the mother would not tell it to her husband. And if Serbian soldiers raped this woman during the Kosovo War, she would most probably take this traumatic experience – and all the sufferings linked to it, too – to her grave.
The 2014 film Three Windows and a Hanging (Tri Dritare dhe një Varje), directed by Isa Qosja, is set in the Kosovar village of Gur, where Lushe, a teacher, does the unthinkable in the context of a Kosovar village society dominated by men: she tells a journalist that three women of Gur and herself have been raped by Serbian armed forces during the Kosovo War. Nobody in this peripheric place in Kosovo really shows solidarity to Lushe as a rape survivor. Instead, ordered by Gur’s mayor Uka, Lushe gets excluded from the village’s life. The reason: in the eyes of Uka and most of the villagers, Lushe stained the honour of the village by making her own tragedy public.
Three Windows and a Hanging is not only a movie about raped women during a war and how they are treated in the aftermath of conflict. It is based on one of the greatest artistic motives: being guilty without being guilty. Furthermore, judging by how Kosovars treat raped women, Qosja unveils the problems of his society, which is male-dominated and often oppresses women.
Isa Qosja was born in 1949 in Vusanje (Vuthaj in Albanian), a small town in the south of Montenegro populated by an Albanian minority. The director’s artistic works to date, such as Proka (1985), often point to the problems of Albanian culture resulting from the fact that men hold a power monopoly. In this movie the leading actor makes a stand against this mentality and gets stigmatised.Proka won a prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Tri Dritare dhe një Varje was the first Oscar nominee of the youngest country in the Balkans.
Qosja’s latest movie is not fictional in the sense that the content is invented.Three Windows and a Hanging holds a mirror up to rural Kosovo. Most of the façades of the houses are not painted, as is the case in Kosovo: reddish building blocks dominate the landscape. The village shop of the film looks like village shops in reality. First and foremost, the actors do not speak standard Albanian, as it is often the case in Albanian movies, but instead speak the Kosovar dialect of Albanian.
“Burrërisht” is an Albanian adverb, which is used in order to characterize a brave action. Yet, there is one big difference between “burrërisht“ and brave: The word man (“burrë”) is embedded in “burrërisht”. “It is not good, when women behave like men,” Uka says to Lushe when she enters the pub – already revolutionary, because a pub is a male domain in rural Kosovo. Lushe responds to the mayor by saying: “it is even worse, when men behave like women.” The teacher does not become sexist in this scene, but rather alludes to Uka’s cowardice – he knows that Lushe did not lie, because his own wife was also raped. In the film, Uka does not act “burrërisht”; he does anything to hide the truth. The only person in the film who really acts “burrërisht” – in the sense of fighting for the truth – is Lushe, a woman.
Tri Dritare dhe një Varje is a taciturn movie. Through the combination of silence and few but serious words – mostly about rape – Isa Qosja creates a sense of shamefacedness, which accompanies the whole film. The asceticism of the interior furnishings and the yawning void of Gur reinforce this gloomy atmosphere. At the same time, this simplicity makes Three Windows and a Hanging uniquely aesthetic. The beautiful pattern of Lushe’s wooden box, for example, burned itself into my mind.
In the village smoking is also a male preserve, and drinking alcohol too. The only time a woman publicly drinks alcohol in the film is Lushe, when she unexpectedly comes into the pub and takes a raki. Whereas there is only one souse in the film, every man is smoking. Tri Dritare dhe një Varje is a film with a density of smoker-scenes that seeks its equal. That does not happen coincidentally: There is indeed an Albanian men-to-men smoking ceremony in order for the man to honour his equals. When a traditional Albanian meets another one, he offers him a cigarette first of all. If he accepts, the cigarette-donor puts his right hand to his heart and lights his counterpart’s cigarette.
The German writer Ernst Jünger once remarked “there is a certain level of oppression which is conceived as liberty”. This sentence is also valid for Kosovar women, who have grown up in which only men have the final word. This is one of the few features of the film that does not faithfully depict Kosovar society: women playing an active role in Three Windows and a Hanging are “burrërisht” – in the sense of challenging the oppression of their society in their own way. In this respect, Isa Qosja did invent an element for the sake of the story presented in the film, but rather than being a cause for criticism it is laudable that the director wants to show Kosovars that there is an alternative to women in his country to just nodding and saying yes to men.
Unfortunately, this behaviour is, in Kosovo, if considered as a whole state, still the usual thing. In this regard, the artistic engagement by the art collective Haveit is a ray of hope. The work of the pair of sisters living in Kosovo’s capital Prishtina– Hana and Vesa Qena and Lola and Alketa Sylaj – rebels vehemently against the oppression of women in Albanian society. In one of their latest performances Tager, they beat the Kanun, the fundamental text of women’s oppression in Kosovo, at its own game by using the activities associated with stereotypical housewifery – cooking.
Altogether, Tri Dritare dhe një Varje is a masterpiece and a great cinematic contribution for everybody interested in the continuing gender imbalance in Kosovo, while to everybody who already has an insight into the Kosovar culture this movie is both familiar and thought provoking. Of course, thinking about something does not make you immediately improve your behaviour, but thinking about something is the first genuine step to improving your behaviour.
With his latest movie, Isa Qosja has brought up a painful subject. And he should not stop doing that: another topic he could treat artistically is domestic violence in Kosovo. Women in Kosovo, now and again say “sometimes we merit to get beaten up by our men”. There are still many realities and painful experiences to be explored and, therefore, hopefully resolved.
Adem Ferizaj was born in Kosovo, raised in Germany, and is studying international relations at Sciences Po Paris. He started writing for the newspaper Franz Kafka wrote for in his time. He is also a freelance journalist writing for Kosovo 2.0, Balkanist, Prishtina Insight, Der Standard and other publications. Follow him on twitter @ademfer.
This article was originally published by OpenDemocracy and is available by clicking here.