Writer and Director: Luàna Bajrami
It is unusual to see a film about teenage female friendship that doesn’t use disruptions in the relationship as its dramatic driver, so Luàna Bajrami’s The Hill Where Lionesses Roar screening at the Raindance Film Festival 2021, is a unusual and refreshing addition to the genre. Instead, Bajrami’s Kosovo-set film looks at female unity and aspiration when opportunity is limited.
Li, Qe and Jeta are in their last summer before either university or some kind of work will change their lives forever. Best friends and fiercely loyal to one another, the young women spend the long, hot days and nights in abandoned buildings and swimming pools. But when a boyfriend crosses a teenage male gang, the friends determine to do whatever it takes to leave town.
Bajrami’s story is almost several different film ideas rolled into one; there’s the coming-of-age narrative about girls on the cusp of womanhood exploring their needs and sexuality ; there’s a social justice movie that considers the restrictive background as well as their experiences of domestic and sexual violence, and finally a brief moment of crime caper as a very different energy envelops the film for about 10-minutes.
Generally though, The Hill Where Lionesses Roar is a story of the kinds of never-ending friendship you think you have at 17 where days last forever and as many hours as possible are spent laughing, telling stories and just being with the people who understand you best. Bajrami is especially good at demonstrating that side of this relationship, the tight intimacy and protectiveness of friends who, for the most part, wander from day to day for 80-minutes.
And while that occasionally gives the film an uneven quality that doesn’t delve beneath the surface to offer clear distinction between the characters or the individual traumas that bring them together, their unity of spirit and certainty is something the film has in spades. That Bajrami shoots this against a country-urban backdrop is often very beautiful creating places of escape and protection for the friends.
Flaka Latifi is probably the most distinct as Qe living with her sometimes violent father and beloved younger sister but craving the freedom from domestic duty her friendships offer. Urate Shabani’s Jeta lives with her uncle who pays her a little too much attention while Era Balaj as Li is only really defined by her boyfriend and ability to drive, but together they make a convincing group.
Showing for only a few days via Curzon Home Cinema, The Hill Where Lionesses Roar tries to do a little too much in its final stages which feels out of kilter with the rest of the story, but as a positive depiction of close female friendships before real life gets in the way, it is hugely enjoyable.
The Hill Where Lionesses Roar is screening via Curzon Home Cinema at the Raindance Film Festival until 31 October.