Screened as part of NZIFF 2002
Fatmir Koçi’s wry Balkan black comedy provides a scattershot reaction to the post-Communist exodus from his native Albania. After years of paranoid isolation and economic instability, more than one million Albanians have abandoned their country, most heading for Southern Italy. This yearning for the imagined opulence of Western Europe claws at young couple Niku and Klara. She has aspirations to become a model on the catwalks of Paris, while he makes a marginal living doing odd jobs with his decrepit old truck, a leftover from revolutionary China. Having once lived in Southern Italy, Niku doesn’t think escape is the answer.
Koçi’s vision of Albania as corrupt and chaotic is never less than admiring, offering a glimpse into a wealthy culture and beautiful landscape marred by decades of oppression. Amongst the desolate ruins and sunny Adriatic beaches, squat concrete bunkers litter the countryside, a remnant of the paranoid Enver Hoxha regime. Daily life is immersed in disorder. Frustrated fathers fire off a few rounds from their Kalashnikovs to let off steam. When films are interrupted by power cuts annoyed patrons stage their own shootouts, and when a train runs out of fuel Niku and Klara simply continue their journey on foot. A disillusioned Niku takes an aimless journey driving around obsessive German tourist Günter (Lars Rudolph, Werckmeister Harmonies) who wants to buy an authentic Albanian bunker. One gets the sense that even as Albanians are leaving in droves, Western exploiters are ready and waiting to scoop up the scraps. — Michael McDonnell
"For a film which has such a clearly stated and apparently propagandistic agenda, Tirana Year Zero is a remarkably impartial and non-programmatic film. Koçi does very little to present his protagonist with a reason for staying, and the film is nothing but brutally frank about the state of Albania today… [The] inspiration for the project came when he asked various people he knew why they professed a desire to leave for the West. None of them could give a concrete answer why they wanted to be in another country. Tirana Year Zero gets its potency from the fact it presents plenty of reasons for leaving Albania, but none for actually arriving anywhere else…
For all the negativity in Tirana Year Zero, Koçi remains a man clearly in love with his country. The cinematography (by Austrian Heinzi Brandner) places stunning, sun-drenched mountains behind the decaying tower blocks, and, even when referring to the country’s darkest moments, Koçi talks about ‘a pleasant chaos’ and emphasises that ‘life is very funny, it’s really funny’ – an attitude clearly visible in the film." — Andrew Horton, Kinoeye