When debut director Bujar Alimani saw the news in his daily newspaper, he knew he wanted to make a film out of it. Months of research and meeting prison folk, and he'd decided who his ideal Albanian woman and man would be. Within fifteen minutes of watching Amnesty ('Amnistia'), we hear the words 'European Union and Albanian law' in a sentence. It's just the tip of a quiet iceberg that Bujari rocks: he goes on to depict the dark side of post-communist Albanian society. That includes modest sex scenes, alcohol abuse and the grit of unemployment in daily life. 'Albanian cinema needs a new style,' he agrees at Amnesty's world premiere on 13 February at the 61st Berlin film festival.
The film is a Greek-Albanian-French production and Alimani's first feature length movie. 'It's my country and my job to show the dark shadows in my country,' he explains at Amnesty's world premiere on 13 February at the 61st Berlin film festival. 'People will watch this movie and try to improve my country.' Alimani's minimal cast speak mostly in body language, and if there is dialogue, it's economised. All the better for a film whose colours stay the same green white and dark, whose female protagonist and mother-of-two learns how to feel like a woman again, for a story about prisons within prisons.
It can feel as if the supporting characters are two-dimensional because Alimani hasn't provided them with dialogue or easy movements. Elsa's children for example come in the middle of a violent tussle between herself and her overbearing father-in-law, who learns of her eventual affair, whilst the husband and wife languishing in jail are never seen front-on. But Alimani doesn't need to let us see these characters in more depth so that we can make up our own minds about the full extent of the protagonists whose love story we watch unfold. It's enough to see how contemporary Albania deals with the consequences of its citizens, imprisoned by society and economy, even despite amnesty, by the end of the film. As the jovial Alimani says himself, 'I'm not an American director.'