Kaltrina Krasniqi • Director of Vera Dreams of the Sea
“We have invented traditions and whole cultures to protect a very discriminatory order”
- VENICE 2021: The Kosovar director breaks down the visual concept for her debut feature, as well as how she combined its many disparate motifs and elements
We caught up with Kosovar director Kaltrina Krasniqi, whose first feature, Vera Dreams of the Sea [+see also:
interview: Kaltrina Krasniqi
film profile], has just world-premiered in the Venice Film Festival's Orizzonti section.
Cineuropa: Vera Dreams of the Sea is partly inspired by your mother's story, but the script was written by playwright Doruntina Basha. How did you work together?
Kaltrina Krasniqi: Doruntina is a childhood friend of mine, and she approached me with a draft of the script in 2014. I was immediately drawn to the story for several reasons, the first one being the character’s age and the rich context it carried. Women of that generation are rarely depicted in film, theatre or literature, especially as leading characters. The second reason was the fact that she was a sign-language interpreter – a voice for the voiceless. The third was her struggle, the way she is completely stripped of agency after her husband’s suicide.
On some levels, Vera’s experience in the film resembled the experiences of my mother, and that helped a lot in crafting the psychology of the character, which often made me very uncomfortable with its submissiveness. We went through every draft together, shaping her and her setting with plenty of detail. We saw her conflict as a great opportunity to expose a post-war society in a deep identity crisis.
You have combined many disparate motifs and elements in this film; it tells a personal, very specific story, but also touches upon many aspects of Kosovar society and the position of women everywhere. How did you build this whole concept?
Well, women being denied property is not an issue specific to Kosovo. Women worldwide own much, much less than men. And that’s a direct impact of a society regulated under the patriarchy. We have invented traditions and whole cultures to protect a very discriminatory order – not only discriminatory towards women, but also towards other groups, like LGBTQ+ people or people of colour. So, in telling Vera’s story, I was aware that regardless of the cultural specifics in Kosovo, I was making a very universal film, too, a film that could resonate culturally and emotionally with audiences worldwide.
Teuta Ajdini Jegeni is amazing in the main role. How did you pick her and work on her character?
It took me a year to cast Teuta Ajdini Jegeni for the film, the main obstacle being Vera’s age. Women from Vera’s generation have not been encouraged to study or practise the arts. Therefore, the pool of Albanian-speaking actresses is quite small. I travelled between Prishtina, Skopje and Tirana for a year, auditioning various women. I found Teuta in Skopje: she is part of an Albanian theatre ensemble there. I very much liked her energy but was nervous about her theatre background. She proved me wrong: she studied sign language and learned it in six months while at the same preparing for the role with a great deal of dedication and respect for her craft.
It's a visually complex film – there are many facets of Prishtina and its suburbs, as well as the rural part, that you present very convincingly. How did you develop the visual side, along with DoP Sevdije Kastrati?
Sevdije and I have known each other for many years. Working with her on my first feature was an intense and very inspiring process. It was important to have a woman DoP because we were telling a woman’s story and wanted to build a visually layered film which spoke not only to Kosovo, but to a wider audience as well. Vera had to be in every shot; we wanted the world to be seen from her perspective, which in itself carried a lot of context. However, we were attentive not to reproduce the exotic gaze filled with stereotypes which has been feeding Balkan cinema for the past two decades.
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