Stalinist Albania's horrific treatment of multinational families gets a sympathetic if uninspired look in "Divorce Albanian Style."

Stalinist Albania’s horrific treatment of multinational families gets a sympathetic if uninspired look in “Divorce Albanian Style.” After paranoid dictator Enver Hoxha’s repudiation of international ties in the early 1960s, any Albanian married to a foreigner was immediately suspect: Most wives returned to their home countries, but many tried to stick it out, often resulting in shockingly long prison sentences. Helmer Adela Peeva (“Whose Is This Song?”) focuses on three families, interweaving archival footage of the isolationist state with moving interviews; slight trimming could tempt Euro cable.

Vassil Orgozki and Polish wife Barbara were very much in love until they were sentenced to 25 years in labor camps in 1969, on obviously trumped-up spy charges (still defended by unreconstructed Hoxha acolytes Yuli Hilla and Pandi Konomi). Polish authorities managed to get Barbara out in under three years, but drug experiments left her mentally unbalanced; the broken, sad-eyed woman now refuses to believe Vassil is her real husband.

After Russian-born Volya Sharonova was jailed, her Albanian husband divorced her and their son disowned her in order to continue studying medicine. Now living in Moscow, geologist Sharonova seems resigned to a life robbed of its promise.

Of the subjects interviewed, only Elena and Minela Chami came through prison with their marriage intact: Their sons explain that only those raised in the peculiar Hoxha system can understand the fear and illogic that infected every element of life.

As Ben Cross’ poorly written English narration explains, one in three Albanians was either jailed or spied upon during the dictator’s rule. Looking back at her truncated life, Sharonova realizes targeting innocent foreigners and their spouses proved much easier for the authorities than catching real spies, though the insight is hardly comforting.

Fascinating subject is let down by pedestrian editing and insipid use of music, half-heartedly slipped in without much thought. Abundant newsreels and black-and-white photos help flesh out the oppressive conformity of the times, along with Hoxha’s cult of personality; interviews with regime enablers like Hilla, Konomi and tough-as-old-boots prosecutor Dolores Veliay add a welcome additional dimension.

Digital quality is fine, and the subjects’ profound pain generally transcends helming limitations.

Divorce Albanian Style

Bulgaria-Germany-Poland

Production

An Adela Media Film & TV Prods. (Bulgaria)/Westdeutscher Rundfunk (Germany)/Bulgarian National Television (Bulgaria)/Studio Filmowe Kalejdoskop (Poland) production, in association with YLE FST, in collaboration with the Albanian National Film Center. (International sales: Mercury Media Intl., London.) Produced by Slobodan Milovanovic. Co-producers, Felix Kuballa, Nikolai Nikolov, Maria Peeva, Piotr Slivinski. Directed, written by Adela Peeva.

Crew

Camera (color/B&W, DigiBeta), Joro Nedelkov; editors, Jelio Jelev, Diana Zaharieva; music, Fatos Qerimaj; sound, Ivaylo Yanev, Michal Pruski. Reviewed at Sofia Film Festival (Documentary Program), March 13, 2008. (Also in Intl. Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, Miami, Thessaloniki Documentary film festivals.) Running time: 66 MIN.

With

Vassil Orgozki, Barbara Orgozki, Elzbieta Orgozki, Elena Chami, Minela Chami, Andrei Chami, Aleksey Chami, Volya Sharonova, Yuli Hilla, Pandi Konomi, Dolores Veliay.
Narrator: Ben Cross. (Albanian, Polish, Russian, English dialogue)
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