Unexpected and forbidden love between a Christian woman a Muslim man threatens to bring into question a life or death oath.
At the very beginning of the First World War, FILIP, a Serb and the principal of a gymnasium in a small Serbian town, is summoned urgently to Belgrade to serve in the war effort. He has no one to leave his wife, LEA, with. She is a young and pretty Slovenian woman, a teacher of rhythmics and dance he met while studying in Western Europe. AZEM, an illiterate, patriarchal Albanian, the school custodian, gives Filip his solemn oath, his ‘Besa’ (in the Albanian tradition: when someone gives their word which must be kept even if they lose their life in the process) that he would look after Lea and see to it that nothing happened to her. Two Europeans, from two entirely different cultures and habits are forced to an awkward cohabitation in the empty school. While the war rages in the background and gets menacingly closer, their interaction develops from hatred, through intolerance, to tolerance and an unusual friendship. Circumstances gradually draw Lea and Azem, a Christian woman and a Muslim man, into a complex forbidden relationship – something like love! More than merely a romantic story, this movie is a paradigm of profound ethnic and class divisions in Europe in the early 20th century which some of them prevail to this day. Would Lea and Azem succeed in overcoming all obstacles and be able to love each other? Would their sincere and passionate love be stronger than Azem’s firm commitment to his oath? What will Filip do when he comes back and realizes that she no longer loves him as she did before and when war finally reaches the little town? BESA is an exciting, unusual, fierce and sometimes even funny story about two people who had absolutely nothing in common except their feelings.
SCENARIO / WRITTEN BY
Jelena Mitrović, Srdan Golubović
Dragan Đurković, Danijel Hočevar, Čedomir Kolar. Denes Zsekeres
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY
Predrag Miki Manojlović - Azem
Iva Krajnc - Lea
Raša Bukvić - Poručnik
Nebojša Dugalić - Filip
Peter Ferenc - Mita
The film BESA, partly inspired by a true story, is conceived as a subtle, small-scale, intimate and sometimes witty love story, which would take place in the former multi-ethnic Kingdom of Serbia. Except for the beginning and end, the film would unfold inside a school from which the pupils and teachers have been evacuated. The inevitable – and intentional – claustrophobia would contribute considerably to the dramatic tension and desired development of the story. Certain situations and rituals would be rhythmically repeated (mornings, bedtime, visits, meals). In this way a sense of the passage of time would be achieved and the development of the relationship between Leah and Azem would be clearly noticed. The appearance of the Lieutenant and 'real life' would, just for a moment, destroy this increasingly pleasant rhythmic routine.
Views from the window of the village street and school yard would represent a kind of 'subjective air' that finds its way into the claustrophobic interior, and also some sort of connection with the outside world. Those shots would always be purposely narrow and 'untidy' – framed by the cut-off edges of windows or curtains.
The exterior scenes would be dominated by open ('democratic') compositions which would give the impression that, out-of-shot, many interesting things are happening that are impossible to see from that particular spot. In short: the camera would not, except at the beginning and end of the film, 'go outside' into the exterior.
The camera script would be dominated by cutaways of close-ups and details. As far as the photography and lighting are concerned, I would be inspired by the principles of Vittorio Storaro and the results he has achieved in resolving the lighting of interiors.
In the set design, costumes, make-up and small-part casting, I would be inspired by the first film material shot on the chosen part of the Balkans at the beginning of the Twentieth Century (the Manaki brothers' documentary material, Botorich's film journals, Slavko Jovanovich's film sequences and, of course, 'King Peter's Coronation' etc.)
LEAH (30) is an extremely well-educated, liberal and emancipated, attractive young woman. Especially for the Europe and Serbia of that time. She is not a 'foreigner' simply because of her insufficient knowledge of the language and customs of a village recently liberated from the Turks. She is a foreigner because of her temperament and liberal way of thinking. Her, perhaps unconscious, talkativeness comes from the situation itself, and from the fact that her protector, Azem, so rarely opens his mouth. Leah is talkative because of her fear of the situation she finds herself in. Both the objective situation and the subjective one. Even so, she is very senstive, tender and wise. Her unusual love experience will certainly leave its mark on her for the rest of her life.
AZEM (45) is a very taciturn, Albanian peasant who has only just taken his first steps into 'town life' and has only recently been given the job of caretaker in the local primary school. He is illiterate and, as far as we can see, a very patriarchal, family man. He quite simply abides by his own ethics, and follows them to the letter. He just assumes or suspects the dangers that threaten Leah. He protects and defends her in the only way he knows, not worrying in the slightest that she finds what he does strange or unpleasant. Beneath his unrefined behaviour and apparent coarseness lies a sensitive and extremely kind-hearted man, for whom Leah symbolizes that other, better world that will never accept him, and, it seems, is totally unable to accept him. This unusual and brief love experience will apparently change the rest of his life, too. Perhaps this is why he realizes that, from an emotional point of view, he has not succeeded in fulfilling his BESA, the solemn, unbreakable vow he has made.
PHILIP (35) is a charming and successful Serbian intellectual from the beginning of the Twentieth century. Educated in Vienna, he is deeply aware of his patriotic duty. He genuinely loves Leah and takes care of her. The moment he realizes that she has 'sinned', he deliberately, as it seems he has done throughout his life, makes a joke of the whole matter and thus manages to suppress the inner pain and bitterness he is experiencing. He will forgive her, albeit 'only emotional' infidelity, convinced that he himself was partly responsible for it.
The LIEUTENANT (25) is the only one who is aware of the horrors of the war that has just begun and that is fast approaching. He is an educated man and obviously very erudite. He occasionally appears somewhat aristocratic, at least for the Serbia of that time. He is brave, sometimes insolent and lack of self-confidence doesn't bother him for sure. Encounter with Lea is changing and softening him a little bit, but he has difficulties to understand that Lea is afraid of him as an officer and that she likes him exclusively as a younger brother.
| Srđan Karanovic |