A Shelter Among the Clouds


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

A Shelter Among The Clouds
"Religious and family tensions are explored with care and sensitivity." | Photo: Courtesy of PÖFF

Religious and family tensions are explored with care and sensitivity in Robert Budina's lovingly shot Albanian drama. High in the remote mountains, devout Muslim goatherd Besnik (Arben Bajraktaraj) leads a largely monastic existence, tending his flock by day and his sick father (Bruno Shllaku) in his off hours. We gradually learn he has a troubled past and a present that is marred by seizures, although they occur more like moments of reverie as he prays - with the film's sound design suddenly emphasising the pealing of goat bells. It's during one of these episodes that he becomes fixated by a crack on the wall of the village mosque and, as he scratches at it with a knife, Catholic iconography begins to be revealed.

There's a peacefulness to Besnik, even in his loneliness, that helps to preserve the balance between the faiths in the village - perhaps a surprise for those viewers who may be expecting religious conflict to immediately emerge. Budina and his co-writer Sabina Kodra are more interested, however, in the way that an equilibrium can be easily upset by outside influences.

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Besnik finds himself struggling to cope on two fronts. Firstly, his discovery brings art historian Velma (Esela Pysqyli) to the area - although knowledgeable about her country's history, she might as well be from the Moon in terms of the way the village works. She finds herself drawn to the simplicity of Besnik and he, in turn, warms to her interest in him, with some of the film's loveliest scenes sparking off the chemistry between them. If Velma represents a sort of benign but confusing modernity, his own family prove to the the greater threat, as his sister Fitore (Irena Cahani) and brother Alban (Osman Ahmeti) arrive with their families. Although ostensibly there to help Besnik with their father, their rivalry is immediately obvious, exacerbated by the fact that Fitore's family are Muslim while Alban has converted to Greek Orthodox.

Besnik has limited dialogue so much hinges on Bajraktaraj's finely calibrated performance that uses body language to convey the inner anxieties being experienced by his character. Budina could, in fact, have put a little more faith in his star, as the addition of a subplot involving the goatherd's whittling ability feels like an unnecessary embellishment.

A distinctive score from Marius Leftarache, which seems to use traditional instruments, adds to the strong sense of place that is captured in all its slow-idyllic glory by Marius Panduru - from striking mountain vistas to the warm flicker of firelight. Those who like slow-burn cinema that relies on the exploration of ideas rather than dramatic incident, will want to draw themselves closer to the fire and listen.

Reviewed on: 08 Nov 2019
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A goatherd finds his life thrown out of balance by the arrival of his siblings and a stranger from the city.

Director: Robert Budina

Writer: Robert Budina

Starring: Arben Bajraktaraj, Zef Jubani, Suela Bako, Klara Lamthi, Irena Cahani, Arjola Demiri, Estela Pysqyli, Avdullah Gjikokaj, Melisa Valbona, Rubin Boshnjaku, Merita Gjyriqi, Idriz Selimaj, Arben Spahija, Osman Ahmeti, Helga Boshnjaku

Year: 2018

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: Albania

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