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"Albania seeks the path to Europe"

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Bujar Alimani • Director

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- Interview with the Albanian director, whose debut feature Amnesty won the Cineuropa Award at the Lecce Film Festival 2011.

Bujar Alimani • Director

A man and woman meet accidentally outside a jail. He has a wife inside, she a husband, whom they see once a month for a conjugal visit. A tender love story blossoms between them, which ends their spouses are granted amnesty. Albanian director Bujar Alimani’s debut feature Amnesty [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
film profile
]
, a subtle exploration of a society in flux and divided between morality and passion, won the Cineuropa Award at the 12th Lecce Festival of European Film.

Cineuropa: What aspect of your country did you wish to portray with your film?
Bujar Alimani: The main characters of my story, Elsa and Spetim, are like many other people, like many I’ve met in my native country. People looking for real emotions in a flat provincial life that suffocates them: an inferno. They express an Albania in flux, suspended between the old and the new, which is seeking its identity and the path to Europe.

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Where the idea for your screenplay come from?
From an article I read in the Albanian press, a couple of years ago, about the fact that the national government would adopt a law of the European Union that allows conjugal visits in prisons. I built a story around these about two people who come from the countryside to visit their spouses every fifth of the month, passionlessly, and during one of these visits meet at a bar in front of the prison.

Their spouses’ faces are never shown, only their backs.
Yes, because the protagonists don’t care about them, and thus neither do viewers. Their visits to the jail are mechanical, almost a violence they’re subjected to. The relationship between Elsa and Spetim, on the other hand, is pure, almost platonic.

Your film has very little dialogue. Is that typical of your work?
The characters speak very little in my three shorts as well, whereas in Albanian film the dialogue is very important. But I already have a very strong medium in my hands: the camera, the images. Perhaps it’s due to my background as a painter [Alimani studied painting at the Tirana Fine Arts Academy]. The director of photography and I wanted the film to have an ochre colour, the colour of cognac.

Who are some of your favourite directors?
Kiarostami, Loach, Leigh, Bergman, the latter from whom I learned the art of silence.

How did you choose your actors?
I saw Luli Bitri [Elsa] in the theatre; I met Karafil Shena [Spetim] in Greece, where I currently live; Todi Llupi [Elsa’s father-in-law] is a comic actors in his first dramatic role here. I took a risk because none of them are stars in Albania, which is also precisely why it was easy to direct them, they trusted me.

Is it hard to make films in Albania?
Most directors demand a lot of money, when instead you can make simple films, with a little money, but which carry strong messages. Like Iranian cinema. Soon I’m going to start looking for financing for my next project, the first draft of which I’m currently working on. But I could start working already, with €30-40,000.

How much did Amnesty cost and where has it been picked up for distribution so far?
The film cost €700,000 and was produced by Fantasia Ldt, Arizona Films and 90 Production, with backing from the Albanian Film Center, the Greek Film Center and Eurimages. It will be released in France in July, and in Greek and Albanian between September and October.

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