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ASTRA 2017

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Batusha’s House: The spirit of a country captured in a house

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- The Swiss-Kosovar documentary explores one particular aspect of the history-architecture relationship

Batusha’s House: The spirit of a country captured in a house

Can a man or a house embody the spirit of a country? Can a documentary capture this spirit? These are two of the questions raised by watching Batusha’s House, a documentary feature directed by young architects Tino Glimmann and Jan Gollob, and shown in the Central and Eastern European Competition at the 24th edition of the Astra Film Festival (16-22 October, Sibiu). 

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During the film’s first few minutes, we watch a postman approaching a house in Prishtina. Shot from afar, the building looks like a fortress, and compared with the other houses in the vicinity, it is a true skyscraper. It is the house of Kadri Batusha, a man who spent years in prison as a fighter for Kosovar independence and then immigrated to Switzerland. He has been adding to the house for the last 15 years, always planning a new floor, a new wing or new parking places. Is this the work of a madman or simply the work of one man’s desperation to have a feeling of belonging? 

From an architectural point of view, the house is a nightmare caught between Escher’s impossible lithographs and, for fans of smartphone games, the multi-award-winning Monument Valley. But architectural aspects aside, this concrete labyrinth wants to be first and foremost a home. In a state that still struggles with international recognition, Batusha’s own way of fighting against the feeling of impermanence is this huge slab of stone. He never puts it into words, but in his mind, this architectural mastodon may work as a gigantic paperweight anchoring the fleeting spirit of Kosovo to the ground so that it’s not blown away by the ever-changing winds of the political world. We may use a souvenir from Paris to bring a feeling of order to our messy desks, but Kosovo may very well be using Batusha’s house.

Sometimes, the documentary seems to have been directed not by Glimmann and Gollob, but by the larger-than-life Batusha. It may have been the lack of experience of the two very young directors, but it could also have been a choice, as Batusha’s anarchic passion for building and his past perfectly match up with the turbulent history of Kosovo. Through its protagonist, the documentary explores decades of fighting for a dream and decades of difficult decisions. Through his house, the movie dissects the unruly society of Kosovo. Through its sometimes tacky decoration choices, it probes a communal spirit that makes exiled Kosovars rent expensive cars before going back to the state during the summer months with the specific purpose of finding a wife.

Besides interviews with the taciturn, almost morose, Batusha and the members of his family, the documentary uses voice-over to discuss the concepts of home and belonging. It may be a discussion unfamiliar to most members of the audience, and it certainly is a path to understanding the psychology and trauma of being a Kosovar. Again, Batusha seems handpicked for the purpose, as his itinerary, from kebab maker to political activist, from convict to freedom fighter, from immigrant to builder, follows a fight whose rules change continuously. In one sequence, Batusha is visiting relatives and friends in Switzerland, promising apartments in his ever-growing house to those who decide to move back home: and so his way of fighting for the future of Kosovo changes once again.

The documentary was produced by the two directors and was co-produced by Ikonë Studio (Kosovo).

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