First features rarely display talents as considerable as multihyphenate Edmond Budina’s in “Letters in the Wind.” A moving tale of the struggle to maintain dignity in a world of crumbling moral borders, story depicts an Albania unsure how to define its future and uncertain how to reconcile its past. Showing a mastery of the medium and an eye for haunting compositions, helmer-writer-actor Budina enriches his narrative with dreamlike sequences of enormous emotional resonance. Pic deserves arthouse exposure.
Niko (Budina) is an unemployed professor and former Party secretary in contempo Albania, whose family just makes ends meet, thanks to money sent from Italy by his son Keli (Vitmar Basha). But there’s been no word from Keli recently, except one letter brought by a friend that gets whipped away by a gust of wind before Niko can read it. Strange rumors are also swirling that Keli is involved in some nasty business in Italy.
With no private students and the money from Keli inexplicably dried up, Niko is reduced to peddling bananas. For a proud man of the intelligentsia, this latest setback produces a shock compounded by the intrusion of a small-time shakedown artist employed by a former friend, Goni Doci (Bujar Asqeriu). Niko’s fall is paralleled by Goni’s rise: The vacuum of authority caused by the collapse of Communism enables a corrupt man to replace an honest one.
Niko’s daughter, Eda (Adele Budina, helmer’s own daughter, in her screen debut) is kidnapped from school by vicious thugs who would force her into prostitution, but is mysteriously released when the gang leader learns she is Keli’s sister. Niko cannot understand how the gentle son he knew could now be feared by violent hoodlums, and decides to make the journey to Italy himself to learn the truth.
Budina’s humanity shines through in every sequence, capturing the bewilderment of a man whose soul has been assaulted by the currents of history. The use of mesmerizing dream sequences give pic a Fellini-esque touch, as does Budina’s recurring use of motifs, especially the elements of air, fire and water.
A strong cast of unknowns (outside of Albania) is led by Budina’s own moving performance as the father, struggling to hold on to his compassion and respect. (Helmer was a well-known legit director and actor in his native land before emigrating to Italy.)
Low budget doesn’t impede tech aspects, and Fato Qerimi’s evocative music is beautifully wedded to image and mood.