Award-winning Kosovar writer-director Lendita Zeqiraj’s debut feature “Aga’s House” is about a boy growing up in a house full of women. Playful, funny and ultimately quietly heartbreaking, Zeiraaj’s departure from short films is a brilliant drama about how empathy not only heals but ultimately makes one grow.
The film opens with a technicolor look at the world. Aga (Arti Lokaj) – A small, innocent boy is on his own, enjoying his time in a natural habitat. He sells cigarettes and occasionally some weed to locales. He carries them around so that he can always make a quick buck. Wishing to see his father is his one true aim in life. The other is, of course, trying to understand if he should really be sensitive, docile or authoritative. Being surrounded by 5 women his understanding is quite wobbly.
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The only other side of life he sees is through the eyes of the rude, violent Cera (Basri Lushtaku). Also in the mix are four Albanian women and a depressed, suicidal Serbian one who sleeps her days dreaming about her daughter she could not be with. In fact, all these women have fled away from something or someone and each other’s only supportive pillars. Even when the second reel of the film so blatantly have them spitting venom on each other; one can easily see how there’s a glue of empathy that bounds them together.
However, Zeqiraj keeps it’s very subtle. The socio-political subtext is so nicely tucked in realism that it never feels forced. Which is why when the screenplay plays with a possibly deadly scenario, it never scatters in the grey area. The film shows hope and the lack of it within a frame to quickly balance the dramatic heft of a certain scene, uplifting it more than it could have.
In only her first feature film Zeqiraj shows great promise – Both as a screenwriter and director. The screenplay is sharply written with sequences that could have sounded dumb if heard but work entirely into the scheme of things. For instance, when Aga decides to leave Cera stranded, there’s no way one could have thought that he would come back. Also, when he does, the scenario has completely turned on its head. So even when Zeqiraj steps back into her previously laid scene, she makes the ground clear for new conflicts.
The directorial choices are also brilliant. She never tries to play with Aga’s innocence. In fact, each scene – Right to the very climax shows Aga’s curiosity, innocence and the empathy he has learned from the women around him. She doesn’t put him in situations which overplay his choices. The downside of the narrative arrives only when the women and their histories become the focus.
The hand-held camera style works for most of the film but once it tries to nit-pick characters and shows their journey it feels a little jagged. For a film that centers around women, the most important scenes are between the two men in the film. It doesn’t take away anything from the central narrative that focuses on the hardship of women. As a story of rape survivors, “Aga’s House” mostly remains subtle. As the coming of age story of a boy in search of his father, it excels.