Heartland Review: Three Windows and a Hanging 

The opening and closing shows look great, but here is another high profile movie to keep on your radar

4 stars 

There's a lot a color in Three Windows and a Hanging. The land is rich and full of life in the small village high in the mountains of Kosovo where director Isa Qosja's story is set. It opens with three old men arguing about something or another under an old tree. The exchange is routine and social. Nothing to be concerned with here.

Later the newspaper arrives and the village routine is interrupted. During the Kosovo War of the late 1990s, an estimated 20,000 women and girls were raped by Serbian forces. Most of them elected not to speak about the assaults. But an article on the front page of the paper announces that a woman from the village told them anonymously that she was one of the rape victims. So were three other woman from the village, she reports.

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We soon learn why so many of the rape victims in the country remained silent. The men are outraged. A revelation like this brings shame to the village, to the men! Why would any of the local women choose to bring such shame to the village?

It doesn't take long for the men to decide who the culprit probably is. The schoolteacher Lushe (Irena Cahani) is a single mother and an outsider. Surely it must be her. But why? And why would she claim there were three others?

The locals turn to Mayor Uka (Luan Jaha) for direction, like they turn to him for everything else. He enjoys his role as father figure to the village, and sets out to resolve the situation as efficiently as possible.

click to enlarge Director Isa Qosja
  • Director Isa Qosja

This is the point where I would call the men egocentric thugs, or royal assholes, or something, and marvel at how their culture could be so primitive. But I can't, because I live in a culture that continues to put rape victims on trial, even though they're not supposed to anymore (it's not been all that long since the practice was officially banned). I live in a culture where the moment someone mentions the possibility of a man going to jail, people start making "don't drop the soap" jokes.

The truth is we're at best only a bit more evolved than the lunkheads in the movie.

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Three Windows and a Hanging follows the power dynamics in the village as the shunning of the teacher begins. The other women join in and, of course, the children. Got to teach your children how society works.

To the credit of Qosja and his cast and crew, the film isn't simply grim. The story is gripping, there are fascinating character studies, the actors are excellent, and there are moments of warmth and even humor. The production is gorgeous, thanks to cinematographer Gokhan Tiryaki's compositions.

The film ends with another visit to the old tree. I don't want to spoil anything — suffice to say that Qosja is courageous enough to include a note of hope.

With enough notes, you can build a song.

click to enlarge Still from the film
  • Still from the film

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