CINEUROPA – BOTA: Albania Cafe by Domenico La Porta

KARLOVY VARY 2014 East of the West

An understated co-production between Albania, Italy and Kosovo is the first pleasant surprise in Karlovy Vary’s East of the West selection

Selected in the East Of The West competition and presented at a world premiere at Karlovy VaryBota [+] is the directorial debut of a duo comprising Albania’s Iris Elezi and American-Albanian director Thomas Logoreci. The film also represents Kosovo’s very first involvement as a co-producing country in a first-class festival. It is joined by Albania and Italy in this tripartite production that bears a strong resemblance to a Bagdad Cafe in which the Nevada desert has given way to a godforsaken no man’s land in deepest Albania. 
Somewhere in the middle of what was once a camp for locking away opponents of the communist regime stands the Bota (literally “the world” in Albanian), a secluded bar, local ecosystem and small-scale theatre of the human condition. The manager is called Beni (Artur Gorishti), portrayed as a small-time crook and ladies’ man who has successfully seduced one of his waitresses – the beautiful and flamboyant Nora (Fioralba Kryemadhi), who is now carrying his child. However, Beni is married to another lady who we, the audience, never see, because the writer-directors made the decision to film only the bar and its parched surroundings, and because Beni, unlike his poor waitresses, has the necessary means to be able to live somewhere “outside”.
Nora loves Beni, and Beni loves money. Money, which his cousin Juli (Flonja Kodheli), Bota’s most reserved waitress, dreams of obtaining so that she may one day be able to get out of this dump and move to the capital. When the construction of a motorway not far from Bota seems imminent, business finally seems to pick up again for Beni – unless the changes cause his whole small business, built entirely on makeshift solutions, scheming and shameful secrets, to implode… 
Stories are born and intertwine in this picturesque place that, just like the aforementioned film by Percy Adlon, is immersed in a musical ambiance that works exceptionally well – traditional folk music, but the very antithesis of the type of music typically associated with the Balkans. And incidentally, it would have been difficult to get more poetic than the dance in the desert in the last shot, which accompanies the closing credits.
Bright and delicately framed, creating a blend of different shots, with just enough editing to allow the film to set its own pace, avoiding any tedious parts, Bota is a great surprise. The viewer gets swept away by a plot that takes a while to hit its stride, but that, in the end, succeeds in building finely shaded characters, played by a trio of charismatic actors. 
A tragedy tinged with hope, Bota does not get bogged down in an obsession with bringing all its plots to a conclusion, and there are still loose ends left untied, just like in real life, wherever you may be in “the world”…