By Mónica Delgado
Presented in the International Competition of Rotterdam Film Festival, where it received a special mention from the jury, Looking for Venera is a classic coming of age film, with all the necessary components for this genre to work: a repressive home, the castrating father, a submissive mother, a hostile social environment, sexual awakening, an oscillating friendship and an apparently not very expressive character who later finds his place in the world. Although the cliches of the genre appear here and there, there are several elements that make this Kosovar film a particular experience: the post-Balkan conflict context, which makes the sets look like abandoned or out-of-time territories – without exoticizing them – and the characters, submerged in an atmosphere of oppression.
Norika Sefa is the Prague-based Kosovar director who makes her debut with this film that focuses on the discreet vicissitudes of Venera (actress Kosovare Krasniqi) and her friend Dorina (Rozafa Cefaj), teenagers who have to deal not only with the typical problems of their age, but with a patriarchal environment that minimizes and models them. Venera attends community school to learn English, lives at home with her parents and her grandmother, and lives avoiding harassment in a suburban neighborhood where toxic masculinities flow. This social aspect defines the options of women, and through the other female characters of reference (aunts, mothers, grandmothers, friends), future designs or future social roles are observed.
Looking for Venera as a learning film is posed in relation to a specific environment, a micro-world shot almost in sepia, of earthy and half-built terrains, typical of a territory devastated by war. A house that serves as a school, an abandoned factory that functions as the only bar in town, or winding streets that house pubescent and adult men in hormonal effervescence. Sefa seems to affirm that the consequences of war, over time, are still present in the lives of women, in a subjugation that is linked to cemented traditions, such as arranged marriages or inviolable family pacts. Under the gaze of Sefa, and the photography of the Venezuelan Luis Armando Arteaga (Ixcanul, Las herederas), this dry and autumnal climate is fundamental to accompany the calm sensitivity of the protagonist, who seems reluctant to resist her social and family impositions.
The most interesting thing about Looking for Venera is in the way the resolutions or approaches to the decisions of the protagonist are shown: from small meetings and dinners with the families or from meetings with her friend Dorina (who becomes a personal reference). These decisions, although cannot being separated from male demands – something which strengthens a pessimistic future for women – leave open a small – and remote – possibility for her agency. And, through these details in the frames, in the gestures, dialogues or situations, the filmmaker is allowing to complete the figure of her protagonist, who may perhaps be able to free herself from this environment of male power.
Script and direction: Norika Sefa
Photography: Luis Armando Arteaga
Editor: Stefan Stabenow, Norika Sefa
Production designer: Arben Shala
Sound design: Risto Alchinov
Cast: Kosovare Krasniqi, Erjona Kakeli, Rozafa Celaj, Basri Lushtaku
Kosovo, Macedonia, 2021, 111 min