Besnik lives way up on the mountains with his family, in a small village somewhere in Northern Albania. The scenery is nothing short of spectacular. The craggy landscape is both verdant and white, partly covered by snow, partly covered by the lush vegetation. Goats are everywhere, and they seem to outnumber humans. They also provide milk, meat and their skin the locals, who lead a precarious yet relatively stable and satisfactory life.
The clouds in film title have a double significance. They refer to both the mountains where the story takes place, their pinnacles often covered with clouds, and the search for a higher moral ground, some sort of ecumenical heaven. Besnik’s ailing father is a Muslim, his brother Alban is convert Greek Orthodox, while his late mother was a Catholic. Besnik resents not being able to marry the love of his life for religious reasons. To top it all up, the villagers are still reeling from Enver Hohxja’s Communist regime, which forbid all types of religion.
One day, Besnik takes the very unusual step of damaging the local mosque’s internal wall, only Catholic imagery to be revealed underneath. Two female experts from a monument preservation organisation are sent to assess and fix the damage. Then come the shocking news. The mosque used to be a church less than three centuries ago, up until 1740. A little bit like the Agia Sophia in Istanbul. And for a long time, the mosque allowed Catholic devotees to practice their religion in the building once a week. This was a political gesture by the then ruling Turks, who wanted to boast their religious tolerance credentials. Albania only became an independent state 116 years ago, on November 28th 1912 (in fact, A Shelter Among Clouds premiered at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival on Albanian Independence day).
Locals now suggest that they should extend another olive branch to the Catholic community and reopen the mosque once a week to the Christian faith. The proposal is met with both enthusiasm and derision. In a way, this very unorthodox idea is aligned with Besnik personal search for religious liberation. He is very laconic, and it isn’t always easy to work out his motives. Perhaps not coincidentally, the quiet and timid man begins a dalliance with one of the females sent to the viallage in order to assess the damage that he caused himself. A Shelter Among the Clouds is a subtle and gentle drama about reconciling personal and religious freedoms.
A Shelter Among the Clouds is showing in Competition at the 22nd Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, which is taking place right now. DMovies are live at the event as special guests.