Amnesty (tbc)

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Review byIsabel Stevens21/09/2011

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 83 mins

Two people stuck in empty, loveless marriages who meet in the most unusual of circumstances are the focus of this quiet, intriguing Albanian love story.

What’s it all about?
Unhappy mother of two Elsa (Luli Bitri) pretends to strangers and her sons alike that she’s going to see her husband in hospital, when actually she’s visiting him in prison. She has just lost her job and money is tight in the family home, where she lives under the watchful eye of her father-in-law (Todi Llupi). Her monthly conjugal visit to the Tirana prison coincides with that of another middle-aged visitor, the equally withdrawn Shpetim (Karafil Shena). After a number of awkward meetings in waiting rooms and cafes, the two embark on a tentative affair. But as Elsa flees to Tirana, her attempts to start a new life are threatened by her father-in-law, who is determined to return her and his grandchildren to the family home.

The Good
This is a confident debut from Albanian director and writer Bujar Alimani who refreshingly favours an understated approach in this subtle romance. There’s no soundtrack to speak of and dialogue is scarce – when his characters do talk, there’s an attentiveness paid to their everyday lives, rather than just the drama at hand, which unfolds slowly and quietly. An interesting conceit which Alimani employs is giving neither imprisoned spouse a face or a voice – they’re just anonymous bodies being dutiful serviced by their partners.

Bitri and Shena – both little-known Albanian actors – give convincing turns as the withdrawn protagonists trapped in stagnant lives (although Bitri’s natural performance stands out of the two). Alimani wisely chooses to focus on lonely moments in waiting rooms and on buses to emphasise his protagonists’ unhappiness rather than resorting to obvious dialogue, but the real insight the film gives isn’t so much into its protagonists’ lives, but into the Albanian society that surrounds them, where jobs are scarce and times are changing as the country becomes more integrated into Europe.

The Bad
Alimani may have (as he has admitted) learnt the power of silence from watching Ingmar Bergman’s films, but more dialogue would have really benefitted the scenes establishing Elsa and Shpetim’s relationship. This is the crux of the film, and it feels particularly underdeveloped and rushed, with Shpetim’s character not nearly as well established as Elsa’s, who is much more of the focus of the film.

Worth Seeing?
Amnesty does get a bit carried away with an overly dramatic finale, but the film does offer a convincing portrait of Albanian society in addition to the slow-burning love story at it’s heart – it’s just a shame that the central romance isn’t more convincing.

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Content updated: 26/09/2015 09:25

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