On 9/11, a cure in Kosovo
For a people just 12 years out of their own prolonged trauma, Kosovars are generous in their observations of this anniversary. As an American with a baby’s understanding of what these people went through, I am humbled.
Kosovars took this moment not to dwell on the particulars of the attacks, nor to examine how the world has changed in the last 10 years. I imagine the dark cloud that has changed shapes for the U.S. and western Europe is more of a related weather system for this tropic of consistent storms.
Rather, this was an opportunity to meditate on injustice, endurance, resistance and reconciliation. There was an air of redemption and, through the lens of sadness, a demonstration of somber beauty.
We went to the third and final night of competition in the Kosovo 9/11 Short Film Festival. We were perhaps expecting movies about the event, but it was never even referenced. These were stories of Kosovo and Albanians. Some were more difficult to appreciate in Albanian with English subtitles, but a couple were outstanding. And the last film of the night, Kthimi, left us haunted.
The title means “The Return,” and the story is of a Kosovar soldier who is released from a Serbian prison after four years, a period in which his wife did not even know if he was alive. What else do you do in prison other than think of ways to escape, asks the reappeared husband. His wife cannot control a fit of giggles as he describes analyzing the viability of any hole.
There’s a spoiler coming two paragraphs down. I’m warning because I hope that you get a chance to see this short film, which seems increasingly likely. In the months since we first saw the film, we have become acquaintances of the filmmakers and have learned that this is to be the first Kosovar film invited to and shown at the Sundance Film Festival later this month.
The film resonated with us in part because it included a handful of already familiar aspects of life here in Prishtinë — topping up cell phones, lengthy concrete stairwells. But it was also a keen reminder of the long dark night that these people have seen in comparison to which these last 10 years have been early dawn.
Here comes the spoiler. The woman reveals to her husband that, shortly after his disappearance, she was raped by two Serbian men. This is a familiar narrative, but it is no less brutal to watch her tell her husband how she tried to induce a miscarriage — to no avail. She gave birth to a baby girl. The husband cannot endure, and he leaves, walking to the parliament building a familiar spot to Pristina residents, where homemade posters for the missing flap on the security fence. This is mere steps from the theater and our apartments. The film ends with silent home movie footage of a happy little girl running around in the grass.
The camera lingers on this luminous child, a little life who knows nothing of the cruelty that preceded and begot her. She is an emblem of the future of this place.
Like most of the films at the 9/11 film fest, Kthimi has nothing to do with that terrible event. But this story is a cure for the evil that humans do to each other because it reminds us that even the most brutal acts may yield to joy.