Historically the first film to fly the label of Kosovo, which is now a United Nations Mission, Isa Qosja’s “The Kukum” is a world apart from Serbian filmmaking. This metaphoric tale about three inmates from a mental asylum who wander through the countryside alongside rumbling NATO tanks is distinguished by a sharp, original vision. Visual aesthetics and a slow, stately rhythm build a wrenching vision of post-1999 Kosovo. Though Qosja’s disturbingly pessimistic reflection on the meaning of freedom does not make for a mainstream film, pic’s purity of spirit and pictorial beauty should earn it a welcome from many festivals.
When NATO peacekeepers enter Kosovo, the Serbian guards at a desolate home for the mentally ill and retarded simply pack up and run. Finding the gate open, the ragged residents timidly step into a new world promising freedom. But no sooner do they try to join a parade of people shouting “Kosovo is free” than they find themselves being stoned by the demonstrators.
A tall, gaunt man in a raincoat known as the Kukum (Luan Jaha) communicates only with his flute. His haunting melodies entrance Mara (Anita Ismaili), and they set off through the country together with impulsive young Hasan (Donat Qosja).
Hasan dreams of marrying Mara and taking her home to his family. He draws lots with the Kukum for the passive girl, and apparently wins. But when they reach the bombed-out village where his brother lives, Hasan is brutally rejected by his brother’s wife.
For a while he lives with Mara in an old barn he has imaginatively fixed up. He constructs a wonderful bicycle and passenger car out of spare parts to take her and the Kukum for rides. But the mean-spirited villagers run them out of town. Finally, even Hasan’s brother turns villainous. A tragically ironic finale, which is unnecessarily telegraphed in advance, puts an end to their dreams.
Qosja, a painter who has a background in short films and documentaries, brings a piercing sense of lost opportunity to the historical moment his film metaphorically depicts. The characters’ personal ideas of what freedom means are cruelly at odds with a closed society that refuses to accept individual differences. Ironically, liberated Kosovo appears even more dehumanizing than before. In this painful, senseless world, the mad trio appear as the only real human beings.
Silent except for a few poetic voiceovers, Jaha portrays the title character like a noble, at times mischievous saint wandering through the desert. When faced with hostility, he opens his coat and flashes his “weapon,” which invariably outrages his aggressors. Ismaili’s Mara has the wistful passivity of a china doll; Qosja keeps the silly Hasan within bounds. Rest of the cast is heartless, violent and bestial.
Pic’s lyrically surreal atmosphere is achieved through top-drawer tech work, lead by lenser Menduh Nushi’s long tracking shots and carefully framed compositions. Dialogue is kept to a minimum, while Naim Krasniqi’s score incorporates beautiful folk music sounds. Agron Vula’s editing allows film’s slow pace to flow smoothly.