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GOCRITIC! Trieste 2019

GoCritic! Review: The Delegation

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- Check out our review of Bujar Alimani's political drama, the big winner of the 30th Trieste Film Festival

GoCritic! Review: The Delegation
Viktor Zhusti in The Delegation

Unlike his previous films (Amnesty, Chromium), which portrayed Albanian society through a more intimate storytelling lens, Bujar Alimani’s third feature, The Delegation [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
, winner of the 30th Trieste Film Festival, puts Albania’s political history centre stage, using a real-life story from the country's past in order to reflect on the present.

It is the end of 1990, and in a remote Albanian prison, the inmates are watching TV. The news shows the arrival of a delegation from the EU who are tasked with evaluating the state of human rights in the country, ahead of its possible entry into the OSCE.

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Leo (Viktor Zhusti) is removed from jail without explanation. The barber who shaves him before his departure speculates that they may be taking him to a mental hospital, as they did with another prisoner - a painter called Luan. Culture, it seems, is the number one enemy in the eyes of this oppressive, Communist system, and Leo, meanwhile, is the physical embodiment of intellectual resistance to this regime: an old professor, wrongfully imprisoned for 15 years in the name of "upheaval and propaganda".

Despite the climate of hope and optimism over possible political change (fuelled by dreams of the West as shown on the TV), the communist regime tries hard to hold onto power, and violent habits prove hard to break.

The film follows Leo and the regime officials as they escort him on the dusty journey to Tirana. Their road trip is soon interrupted when the car breaks down in the middle of the mountains, by the side of a river. Stranded in rural Albania, where nothing seems to work, and unaware of the reasons behind his relocation, Leo finally gets an opportunity to challenge the authority of the men travelling with him, though this is not without consequence. “The river sleeps, but the enemy does not”, warns Party official, Asllan (Xhevdet Ferri) - himself, the living embodiment of the blind arrogance of power - in response to Leo’s accusations against the Communist party.

The shallow focus of DoP Ilias Adamis' cameraworkreflects the lack of information that is at the disposal of our hero, and the look of the film is reminiscent of photographs from the 1990s, mostly yellow and brown in tone. Suspended in an atmosphere of anticipation, the story maintains a tense, dramatic mood, which is on occasion broken by certain grotesque moments. We feel that something unexpected could happen at any moment. Leo eventually realises that they are taking him to Tirana to testify before the European Delegation, but things do not go as planned... The idea of having political prisoners testify on behalf of the very same regime which deprived them of their freedom is as cruel as it is absurd, and Alimani paints this tragic irony to perfection.

“For everything to remain the same, everything must change", wrote Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa in his novel "The Leopard". Power will transform itself without ever losing its corrupted nature. It will present a new face to the world, but it will continue to fight the same old enemies (both real and imagined). Through his impressive portrayal of a twisted bureaucratic system, which turns its back on its own subjects for choosing to leave their country, Alimani not only denounces the controversial aspects of the democratic transition in Albania, but he also reveals the truth behind many newly “democratic” systems, in which political violence has not disappeared, but is simply hidden behind a (relatively) clean and shiny facade.

This article was written as part of GoCritic! training programme.

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