Review - A Shelter Among The Clouds
Young Tallints
Unease and a glimmer of hope under the heavy clouds.
By Tautvydas Urbelis, Young Tallints participant.

The majestic mountains of Northern Albania slowly reveal themselves as we glide into A Shelter Among the Clouds, the second feature film by Albania director Robert Budina.

Life in a remote village has its own sleepy rhythm, undisturbed by the troubles of the outside world. Besnik (Arben Bajraktaraj) lives the life of a shepherd, takes care of his elderly and devotes his life to God and nature. But this calm posture hides his disturbed psyche. Troubles befall Besnik and his village, as illness, religion and greed threatens to break the tranquility of the mountains.

The film has an immediate visual effect as sublime scenery is contrasted with the images of village’s everyday life. There is a stark difference between the rustic inside of the buildings and outside which brings forth the fragility and mundane existence of the villagers. It is subtle reminder not to fall into a trap of fetishism of rural life, so prevalent in an apparently distant urban world.

The affection that is shown to Besnik by a newly arrived restoration specialist Vilma (Esela Pysqyli) brings up an important question about the exoticisation of a ‘distant other;. This question gains its social dimension as events in the film starts resonating with reality. Where does one draw the line between affection and treating an other as a mere object of our desires and fantasies? Backwardness can become a source of derision - or patronizing sympathy. People remain silent as we admire the “simple” life of villagers. In this way Besnik and his village represents communities that are deprived of their voice.

In this sense, the film is in a paradoxical situation – on one hand it talks about issues that emerge when modern life (in the form of the two restoration specialists) come into contact with remote rural life. However actually filming A Shelter Among The Clouds in this unique and real location is as troubled a contact as the film depicts as fiction. When asked how local villagers have reacted to the film crew and a whole process, Budina has stated that the reaction was only positive. But talking only about an immediate reaction might be not enough. Every contact irreversibly changes fragile communities. It introduces a small token of other ways of life. A promise that rarely, if ever, can be fulfilled. In one scene Besnik is happy that whole family is back together and he says that everything is “just as before”, – but his troubled face and the developing tensions among family members proves that nothing can remain the same. We are painfully divided between longing for the past and having hope for the future. This liminal state is our presence, full of anxiety and uncertainty. Even the mountains can provide only temporary shelter, a gentle image of eternity to soothe the pain.

The film does not provide clear-cut answers, but engages in a process of observation and learning. As the story progresses, narrative starts to crack and starts persistently pointing at certain aspects instead of revealing them naturally. For example, an abundance of close, attentive shots of Besnik’s humble and weather-beaten face lose their mystique under heavy exposure.

The film’s attempt at magic realism might not reach its full potential on screen, but it occupies unique position between fiction and reality. The process of filmmaking in the age of diminishing remoteness intertwines with locations and people. The cinematic language becomes the language of action. It talks about the world, exposes it and inevitably changes it. The idea that modern technologies can be invisible becomes almost impossible. At the same time being unnoticed is probably the only opportunity to retain unique lifestyles unaffected by the turmoil of modern life.

The discovery that a mosque was once a church, the arrival of outsiders and Besnik’s own family feuds show that an idyll is always tainted with inner repression. Peaceful coexistence cannot be silent as it always requires admitting that other cannot be completely understood. Coexistence in this sense means embracing the difference, even if that difference cannot be fully internalized.