Culture Supplement

"Afterwar" at the "Berlinale" and the three times of Kosovo

The film "Afterwar" - which had its world premiere at the 74th edition of the Berlin Film Festival, Berlinale, which ended Saturday night at the awards ceremony - begins with archival footage of the 1999 war - the brief scenes of death, destruction and displacement – ​​divided into three chapters: past, present and future

When in 2009 the Danish director, Birgitte Stærmose, made the short film "Out of Love", she met some children selling cigarettes on the streets of Pristina. Keeping in touch with some of them, in 2017 she returns to Kosovo to shoot a sequel with the same cast, where they are recognized as co-creators of the film. The result is "Afterwar", which followed its world premiere in the "Panorama" category of the "Berlinale" (the 74th edition of which ended with the awards on Saturday night and "Afterwar" did not manage to win vj).

The film cannot be classified as documentary or fiction, it mixes performances with real people and professional actors in a profound way.

The film begins with archival footage of the 1999 war – brief scenes of death, destruction and displacement – ​​divided into three chapters: past, present and future. In the first, we see the four co-creators, along with some other characters, as children or teenagers. They look straight into the camera, showing how they grew up during wartime, at some moments their whispers are magnified, intensifying the strong emotions, supported by the sound design and the music present, often taking on a dissonant tone or quietly threatening.

A part of the "Afterwar" film team on the red carpet of the "Berlinale" on February 19 of this year (Photo: Berlinale)

A unique story of survival comes from Gëzim Kelmendi, who hid under a dying cow and then killed the animal to save it from its agony. Asking, "Why should an animal suffer more than us?", Joy is the most expressive of the other four characters, a boy who wants to become a rap artist, with a difficult relationship with his father. But now that he has a son, he is determined to always protect his child.

Director Birgitte Stærmose towards the stage after the premiere of her film "Afterwar" at "Berlinale", on February 19, 2024 (Photo: Berlinale)

On the other hand, Xhevaire Abdullahu, called Xheva, has a strong bond with her mother and in the current segment, she talks about her desire to build a house for her. She has a tremendous presence and an inner strength that shines from the screen. In the meantime, Besnik Hyseni is less talkative, but the pain in his eyes speaks volumes, the few words we get from him can hold the greatest power. At the age of 26, he still sells nuts to support his family. Shpresim Azemi is a devout Muslim, is often seen praying and is also the most direct in expressing his opinions. He concludes the title of the film: "War settles in people, like a plague." And so "post-war" is, therefore, a state of mind, a sign in the soul and a dark indicator for the future.

There are several other characters we see as children, and then as adults, including a girl and her words – “you think I'm nothing. So I'm nothing” – will be repeated to viewers time and time again. Said in the lobby of the famous "Grand" hotel in Pristina, they have a special weight that will be clear to those who know the recent history of Kosovo - and to others, it will be a space where something happens, with a different but influential connotation. The grown-up Xheva whispering "To live in poverty is to be in shame" in a crowded disco is another hard-hitting example.

Stærmose faithfully captures the strange urban-rural-industrial atmosphere of Kosovo. Its nature has a harsh beauty, but the towns and villages of Kosovo were still undeveloped, stuck in the time of Yugoslavia, and after the war, some of their suburbs have deteriorated, while construction is everywhere. When one of the protagonists, as a child, catches a fish with a plastic cup in a stream under a concrete bridge, he cleans it in a rusty pipe. They often appear, as children and as adults, in an underpass in the center of Pristina, a limited space and a tunnel without light at the end. This may, in itself, be a metaphor for their state of mind, but also for their real life.

"Afterwar" is a co-production that includes "Magic Hour Films" from Denmark, "Kabineti" from Kosovo, "Vilda Bomben Films" from Sweden and "Oy Bufo Ab" from Finland.

Taken from "Cineuropa". The title belongs to the Editor. Translated by: Enis Bytyqi