It seems that most of today’s motion pictures consist of big budgets, big stars, and big explosions in a continually failing effort at storytelling. But, that is what makes money these days: superheroes, dinosaurs, and sequels to 40-year-old sagas. This group of movies may be entertaining and profitable, but often fail at being thought provoking.
Enter Isa Qosja, a filmmaker from Kosovo who brings “Three Windows and a Hanging” to the Heartland Film Festival this week. “Three Windows” is a story smartly told and expertly woven into the very fabric of the beautiful countryside of rural Kosovo during a time in which the nation is recovering from years of war. What is not seen, or more importantly what is not heard, is the female residents of this area who are struggling with the aftermath of war more than others.
This story opens under what turns out to be the main character, a tree. Three old men are engaging in banter discussing customs and even some semi-friendly insults. The oldest of the trio chastises one of the men for insulting the tree and the shade it produces-a truly ironic foreshadowing as the story unfolds.
The movie, based on a true story, takes place in a small village of Kosovo and highlights one of the human injustices of recent memory. During the war, many of the men of these villages were either in hiding or off fighting the war, leaving the women to fend for themselves and the result was over 20,000 rapes by Serbian soldiers in this Balkan region of Europe, a sobering fact shared by Qosja during the Q&A.
Qosja abstains from the use of a musical score for this film with the exception of the closing credits. This silent soundtrack is significant and a powerful symbol of the silence of the victims as well as the men of the village, where according to local custom, rape isn’t necessarily a crime, but more a shame on the victim and her family.
One of the residents of the village speaks with an international journalist and reveals what happened to her and three other women. She tells the story of the soldiers who took the four victims under a nearby tree outside the village and raped them.
While this crime is shocking enough in and of itself, it isn’t nearly as shocking as the response of the men of the village. This is something that simply isn’t spoken of among the victims or those around them, and this movie gives a revealing glimpse into a culture that is so very different from our American world, where we are working hard to remove shame and encourage victims, rather than ostracizing them.
Uka, who is expertly played by Luan Jaha, is the village leader and referred to by his constituency as “President.” When the other men of the village summon him to reveal the news article, it is obvious that he is hiding something, dismissing the article as false. He later comes back to say that the anonymous person in the story is actually Lushe, the school teacher, a somber character carried out with remarkable depth by Irena Cahani. Cahani portrays Lushe as a victim who is trying to move on with her life, but when Uka tells the villagers what she has done and what her punishment is to be, her life, and that of her young son, take a remarkable turn. As word of what she has done spreads through the village, her classroom becomes emptier and she becomes isolated.
The little boy at one time asks his mother, “Mama, were you raped?”
Qosja discussed the customs of the area with moviegoers after the screening. He said that yes, the film will be shown in Kosovo, the sight of these atrocities. It has been well received in the capital city of Pristina, but the true goal of the movie is to get it shown in the rural areas of the Balkans, where crimes like this are still considered a shame on the victim, not the perpetrator.
This film isn’t for everyone. There is no sweeping and loud soundtrack. There are no gunfights or explosions. And certainly, no hero flies in at the last moment to save the day.
What is present in this film is a gripping human drama, individual struggles with being a victim and struggling to find a voice and a place in life for those living in rural Kosovo. This film has truly outstanding individual performances, especially by Cahani and Jaha, who should both be making room in their homes for the many international acting awards they are sure to receive.
"Three Windows and a Hanging" is an outstanding attempt to shed light on a topic that receives not enough conversation or attention.