A woman awakens in ‘Vera Dreams of the Sea’


IN Vera Dreams of the Sea, we meet a woman who dreams of a good life after her husband’s retirement. Following what happened to the husband, she still dreams of the sea but this time in turmoil. She wakes up from it and decides for the first time to talk.

There is a reason for Vera to dream about the good life. She has a stable and singular work—that of a sign-language translator for TV news broadcast. Her coiffed hair may look formal but it is what she is, calm and collected. She goes home to a husband who may have a set habit but nevertheless provides security for her, a daughter and their grandchild. If Vera has an immediate problem, it is because she should hurry up for the birthday of the beloved husband. Along the way, she has to pick up a delicacy—a baklava, a pastry dessert common in the region—and she will find something amiss with how the dish has been cooked. That could rattle Vera.

Then it happens: the husband is suddenly gone. Vera comes home to a dead husband, with the baklava still to be served.

At the funeral, a friend who also holds an important government position leads the obligatory eulogy for the dear departed. A cousin of Vera’s husband, Ahmeti, displays at the table after the funeral an emotion which seems so out of place that people are bound to comment on that behavior. Ahmeti speaks how Fatmiri has always considered him an important part of his life. Sara, however, sees through this lament of her father’s cousin.

Then Vera is all alone now, save for her daughter who, it seems, cannot find success in her profession as a theater artist. In bed, Vera struggles with the solitude.

No detail about the death is ever shown at this point, no image is left for us to assess so that we may be companions of Vera in her mourning. Each night, Vera curls up and drifts to sleepiness and wakefulness, and the seas come again. She dreams of the wet floor in the bathroom where she chanced upon her husband days ago.

A visit from the wife of Ahmeti discloses how Vera’s late husband had promised the country home to Ahmeti. Nothing is written, just a word from the cousin to the cousin. No document, which is uncanny given that the donor of the property was a man of law. This brings havoc to the widowhood of Vera; womanhood is also in transit in this woman caught in the patriarchy of the society. Bereft of the male presence, the wife as an important feature of a home vanishes. The men in Vera’s country will only talk to her but not necessarily accede to what she desires to have.

The house though is important because Vera has received an offer from a corporation interested to acquire the lot on which the house is built. She has dreamt of these with her husband—a new home for their daughter and, perhaps, a journey to enjoy the sea.

Vera meets up with Ahmeti again, this time right there in the contested home. The cousin brings men, the elders of the society. These men insist the retired judge, a native son, indeed had given the property to Ahmeti. The men present themselves as the reliable witness because they are men.

In Katrina Krasniqui’s film, the woman is subjected to stressors all created and sustained by men who believe it is natural to hear their voices as the wellspring of truth, justice and any notion of rights. Thus, when Vera refuses to give up the house, the threats begin. That when this system of patriarchy is questioned, the men resort to force if only to stop women’s “fully authorized, political speech,” to borrow Spivak’s words.

Will Vera give up her claim to the house and the entire property?

Editing, that technique relegated always in favor of screen performances—the more actor-centric viewing and reading of cinema—is the liberating tool in the film. By this, I just do not mean the action of cutting scenes but also the writing of tales that should finally go into the narrative.

The death of the husband is a work of silence and framing: the bathroom where death happens is not a stage for hysteria or revelation. The camera confronts the wet floor. Is that all there is? Death is all that is there. The film is not about the death of the husband than it is the life of a woman and the slow erosion of her status. And there is that skillful writing of the screenplay when Vera confronts the friend of her husband. She does it right there in the café for the deaf, a place where the loud language of man does not serve any purpose. It is after all the only place where Vera reigns most supreme, for in that space the sign language is the accepted currency for exchange. To the question of whether Vera will expose all the truths, truth be damned, the answer is in that café.

Incredible is the conceit of radical change coming from a language devised for those who do not have the voice. It is from that sign language that Vera succeeds in revealing the weaknesses of both her husband and the man who ruins him.

As Vera, Teuta Ajdini Jegeni holds the screen with a magisterial presence borne by an ordinariness that surprises because it hides courage. In films about women, woman’s righteousness has always been linked to the womb. In this film, the actor herself plays the game in the world of technology and communications, instrumentalities fueled by masculine force. 

Vera Dreams of the Sea is the Grand Prix winner of the 34th Tokyo International Film Festival.

Doruntina Basha is credited for the screenplay; cinematography is by Sevdije Kastrati. The editing was done by Vladimir Pavlovski and Kaltrina Krasniqi. Production design is by Burim Arifi and Blendina Xhema, with music by Petrit Ceku and Genc Salihu.

The production companies involved in the film include Isstra Creative Factory, Dream Factory, Papadhimitri Production. Kosovo/Albania and North Macedonia are stated as origins of the film.

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