Humanism and family troubles battle in the Albanian film by Robert Budina, A Shelter Among The Clouds.

There are more ways than one to tell that religious co-habitation is still a fragile process, and there is a single way - iterated in many ways) in the A Shelter Among The Clouds -  to tell that communism, with its authoritarian practices, held all those strings together. In the age of democracy and globalization, new methods are being sought, not always kind to its more sensitive members.

The new Albanian/Romanian co-production, directed by by Robert Budina (A Shelter Among the Clouds is his sophomore film) follows a narrative trajectory similar to the one that Ozu used in Tokyo Story, but using religion as a dividing weapon instead. Tracking shots here between family scenes replace Ozu's static meaningful contexts, as if the meaning has to be grasped at the moving intersection of the shots.

The main character Besnik (Arben Bajraktaraj)  is a lonely shepherd and devoted Muslim, in a northern Albanian village; he lives with his goats and the ailing communist father Fadil (Bruno Shllaku) - whose Enver Hoxha pic above the bed won't really help him recover.  Soft-spoken, more at home with the grand vista of Albanian mountains than his own home, Besnik (we learn) is a person that needs both medical help and love. His mother having died at 46 (a devoted Catholic), Besnik has to endure the visit of his two brothers, Fitore (Irena Cahani) and Alban (Osman Ahmeti). Fitore and her family are devoted Muslims, while Alban and his own family have moved to Greece for work -and converted to the Eastern Orthodox tradition. Which leaves the religious syncretism of Besnik without any stand, for siblings need to take up increasingly more of his own space.

The welcome experience of Vilma (Esela Pysqyli) could change things for Besnik. In an altogether serene representation of state authorities, Vilma is an Institute of Monuments official, giving a positive representation of state authorities. She takes cares of the discovered Roman Catholic murals in the village Mosque,  found by none other than Besnik himself. Sometimes she needs to take care of Besnik himself. Vilma is mostly lit like an ethereal presence, and her good will needs to unite both devoted Christians and Muslims. This task ultimately needs to fall to Besnik as well , added to both family dysfunction and past troubles.

Magnificently lit by Marius Panduru, mountain exteriors are staged by Robert Budina as covering blankets for Besnik's tormented soul. A Shelter Among the Clouds uses a mostly passive (but not pathetic) character; people come and go out of focus behind him, and their stories affect Besnik, but they are not the important ones. In one of the early scenes, when the always greedy for space Alban moves to visit his ailing father, we stand with Besnik and his emotions inside the house, while the exteriors of Alban's family and their car are seen through window bars. Clearly, they are the ones who are in chains.

Besnik has also the power to influence the future, as a much warm night scene with his niece would testify, and folk stories can make the rest of the family and the village go nuts. Character itself comes out stronger than the film's intended politics of religious tolerance, which seems to be inconsequential here. The better points of A Shelter Among the Clouds come from the dynamics of family scenes, as well as Arben Bajraktaraj's own performance enigma between a wannabe sage and the fool of the village. It is the sense of a home lost (rather than a religion convoluted) that the film registers in both high and low registers. It feels fragile, homely when goats invade the scene, and tense when humans enter a divided house. Not much magical realism, but an individual, half-won humanistic battle against all realistic odds.

Cast and Credits

Α Shelter Among the Clouds (2018, 83')
Besnik……………… Arben Bajraktaraj
Vilma………………..Esela Pysqyli
Fitore………………..Irena Cahani
Fadil………………….Bruno Shllaku
Alban………………..Osman Ahmeti

 Directed by: Robert Budina
Written by: Robert Budina
Director of Photography: Marius Panduru
Edited by: Ștefan Tatu
Production Designer: Leandër Ljarja
Sound Designer: Marius Leftărache
Sound Mixer: Darko Spasovski
Music: Marius Leftărache
Produced by: Sabina Kodra
Production Company: Erafilm
Co-producer: Cristian Nicolescu
Co-production company: Digital Cube Romania
Financial Support from: CNC Albania