Set in a traditional Kosovar village in 2000, a year after the war with Serbia, Isa Qosja’s “Three Windows and a Hanging” is a critical look at a patriarchal culture threatened by the knowledge that the enemy violated their women. When a local femme anonymously reveals to an international journalist that she and others were raped, the fallout from this once-repressed secret threatens to tear apart the fabric of village life in this finely written and directed drama. Kosovo’s choice of foreign-language Oscar entry signals a coming to terms with something previously considered too shameful to discuss; further fest play beckons.
The action takes place in a scenic mountain enclave that is trying to rebuild after the war. Controlling local mayor Uka (Luan Jaha) is only too happy to take credit for the cows newly donated from Switzerland and other quality-of-life upgrades. Uka also owns the village grocery store where his near-catatonic, always-cleaning wife (Aurita Agushi) and pretty daughter (Doresa Rexha) mind the till while he holds court with the smoking, coffee-drinking men out front.
While most of the women in the film are depicted within the confines of the domestic realm, strong, independent schoolmarm Lushe (Irena Cahani) is an exception. Not only does she work outside the home, but she must also do a man’s work around the house and play mother and father to her little boy, as her husband has been missing since the end of the war. Even before the article about the wartime rapes appears in the paper, Lushe seems to have a strained relationship with the local men — a tension that only increases as Uka tells them Lushe must be the source, and advises them to shun both her and her lad.
While the men are happy to comply because they believe Lushe has brought shame on them and their village, they can’t stop wondering about the identities of the three other raped women mentioned in the article. Even though their traditional attitudes are infuriating, the nuanced script by playwright and dramaturg Zymber Kelmendi makes it easy to empathize with a loving husband like Lushe’s onetime friend Sokol (Donat Qosja), whose conservative upbringing makes it impossible for him to even voice his fears to his melancholy wife (Leonora Mehmetaj).
Following up his 2005 allegorical feature, “Kukumi,” with another film that ultimately denounces the cruel treatment handed out to those who suffered in the war by their peers, director Qosja helms with sensitivity and clarity. He also gives the action the look of a Balkan Western, thanks to the magnificent natural locations and stellar lensing by Gokhan Tiryaki, who shot most of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s later films, including “Winter Sleep.”
As the woman who is victimized twice yet refuses to play a victim, theater thesp Cahani makes a strong impression in her first feature role. Jaha also scores as a man whose world is crumbling around him, and whose fight to hide humiliating secrets leads him to treat those who deserve the deepest sympathy in a dehumanizing way. The good-looking tech package benefits from European post-production polish.