Film Review: ‘Home Sweet Home’

A provocative concept, which practically cries out for satire or black comedy, is ill served by debuting feature helmer Faton Bajraktari’s overly earnest approach.

Donat Qosja, Arta Muçaj, Shkumbin Istrefi, Lea Qosja, Susan Mustafov, Albin Bajraktari. (Albanian dialogue)

The ironically titled, literal chamber drama “Home Sweet Home” explores Kosovo’s post-war reality as a Kosovo Liberation Army soldier resurfaces four years after being considered dead and his return complicates things for his nearest and dearest, who have been enjoying the many benefits set aside for families of the martyred. This provocative concept, which practically cries out for satire or black comedy, is ill served by debuting feature helmer Faton Bajraktari’s overly earnest take on a screenplay by playwright and dramaturge Zymber Kelmendi (“Three Windows and a Hanging”), and ultimately comes off as didactic and unconvincing. Nevertheless, given the scarcity of features from the region, further festival play is likely.

Without a word of warning, mild-mannered former school teacher Agron (Donat Qosja, passive) turns up on the doorstep of his former home in a village not far from Pristina. His arrival represents a major shock since his family and friends were so convinced of his death in battle that they have long since held a funeral. Moreover, he has materialized at a particularly awkward time: his service as both teacher and soldier is about to be honored with the inauguration of a new school, the funding secured because he was one of the country’s glorious fallen.

All in all, Agron’s family seems to have survived quite well without him. Thanks to his former colleague and comrade in arms Bashkim (Shkumbin Istrefi), his wife Hana (theater actress Arta Muçaj, who seems as if she would make a fantastic Lady Macbeth) now has a good job coordinating benefits to the families of other war widows; their elder daughter Drita (Susan Mustafov) is set to receive a scholarship to study medicine, from a set-aside for war orphans; and disrespectful wastrel son Luan (Albin Bajraktari) is about to take an expensive school trip free of charge to children of the war dead.

Dumbfounded by these developments, the fact that god-knows-who has been buried in his grave, and the none-too-subtle pressure he receives from Bashkim and Hana to delay making himself known in the village, Agron hides at home, forced to scurry into the back bedroom whenever a knock sounds at the door. His main pleasure comes from contact with his adorably frank youngest daughter Blerta (Lea Qosja, the lead actor’s real-life child), who takes two Polaroid photos of him every day. In the meantime, he smokes and gazes out the window, yearning for the freedom represented by the paraglider he sees in the distance. Some viewers may wonder why, with all the leisure he has on his hands, he doesn’t bother to fix the dripping tap, but then what would helmer Bajraktari use to represent the slow passing of time?

In contrast to his tight screenplay for “Three Windows and a Hanging,” which offered a critical look at patriarchal culture in a traditional Kosovar village, writer Kelmendi’s script contains a few too many holes as well as unnecessary elements. However, his jabs at the international NGOs who fund projects that are at odds with Kosovar culture hit home.

With the action almost entirely confined to the various cramped rooms of Agron’s house, which contain very little of visual interest (perhaps explained by the lack of a production designer credit), Bajraktari’s pedestrian directing style does not help to compel viewer interest. The pace is slow and the visuals framed for television. At the Karlovy Vary press screening, the projection did not benefit from an overall soupy color.

Film Review: 'Home Sweet Home'

Reviewed at Karlovy Vary Film Festival (East of the West), July 6, 2016. Running time: 91 MIN.

Production: (Kosovo-Macedonia) A N.T. Sh Cineproduction production, in co-production with Arnel Production. Produed by Trim Musliu. Co-producer, Senad Abduli.

Crew: Directed by Faton Bajraktari. Screenplay, Zymber Kelmendi. Camera (color, HD), Latif Hasolli; editor, Blaze Dulje; music, sound designer, Darko Spaskovski; costume designer, Albulena Borovci; makeup, hair, Leonora Mehmeti; assistant producer, Arbër Krasniqi.

With: Donat Qosja, Arta Muçaj, Shkumbin Istrefi, Lea Qosja, Susan Mustafov, Albin Bajraktari. (Albanian dialogue)

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