Film Review: Open Door – Visionär Film Festival

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writers: Ajola Daja and Florenc Papas

Director: Florenc Papas

This Albanian film from 2019 gets a wider screening at the Visionär Film Festival exploring the lives of women in a strictly patriarchal society where traditional moral values and the role of women as caretakers of male need is sympathetically played out in the story of two sisters reunited for just 24-hours. Staged as a domestic road movie, Ajola Daja and Florenc Papas’ film has much to say about the powerlessness of the female voice and the restrictions placed on their body and agency.

Before collecting her sister Elma from the boat from Italy, Rudina must ensure her elderly in-laws are taken care of and pick-up her son from school. Refused time off to commemorate the anniversary of her mother’s death, Rudina shoulders the family burden, made more difficult by her sister’s advanced pregnancy and separation from the baby’s father which Rudina and Elma attempt to conceal from their overbearing father.

Open Door has an episodic structure, arranged into phases punctuating a journey from the dock to the family home. That this is side-tracked by alternative errands and the need to protect Elma from exposure is typical of the road movie, but the small-scale nature of this story and the physical sphere of travel creates a domestic intimacy that works well.

The film is clear about the many impositions placed on Rudina as a carer for all the older characters in the story where she is expected to wait on them, provide meals and interrupt her own plans or routines to attend to their needs. The erosion of this is one of Daja and Papas’ most interesting statements, taking Rudina to a point where she silently complies, absorbing their requirements as a penance or duty she cannot escape.

Moving through this is a sense of a society fighting against change with Elma unable to present her status as a single pregnant woman and having to undertake an elaborate deception although both sisters engage in private acts of acts resistance. These counter-narratives could be stronger, drawing more of a contrast between the way women behave on the surface and the how the sisters try to work against this by moving away from or maintaining a private emotional space. This could be given a greater focus, although these ideas are there in nascent form.

Luli Bitri as Rudina is the emotional centre of Open Door and the story is told from her perspective. In just 90-minutes it covers a range of responses that emerge slowly, from annoyance at her sister’s ridiculous plan to compassion for her situation, frustration with the drudgery of her own life, absent husband and the breaking point that Bitri’s character is beginning to reach, even a sense of a lost opportunity to be happy that the film’s final moments imply.

Jonida Vokshi as Elma is suitably intimidated by her father (Sotiraq Bratko) whose eventual appearance underscores the behaviour of the sisters. Open Door is beginning to say some interesting things about women’s lives in traditional communities and the spaces they find to exist in brighter colours but it feels like Daja and Papas have more to say.

Open Door is screening at the Visionär Film Festival, Berlin on 14 November.

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The Reviews Hub Film Team is under the editorship of Maryam Philpott.

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