REVIEW: Shok [2015]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: NR | Runtime: 21 minutes | Release Date: 2015 (Kosovo)
Studio: Eagle Eye Media
Director(s): Jamie Donoughue
Writer(s): Jamie Donoughue

“It’s not about the bike”

There’s no more poignant way to tell a tale of war than through the eyes of children. This is what writer/director Jamie Donoughue does with Shok, a short film set during the Kosovo War between the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (spearheaded by the Serbians) and the Kosovo Liberation Army at the end of the twentieth century. Rather than show battlefield gunfire and nameless bodies falling before new soldiers can take their place, he enters a tiny village to meet best friends Oki (Andi Bajgora) and Petrit (Lum Veseli) wandering the streets on the former’s new bicycle in order to make some extra money so the latter can purchase his own. They are Albanians, meant to keep their heads down, walking straight into the enemy’s arms.

I got ahead of myself, though. The film actually starts with an adult Petrit (Kushtrim Sheremeti) shaken by an old bike in the middle of the road. It stirs something that he may not have felt for years—some feeling or tragic incident from his past he cannot simply ignore any longer. This is our entry into his flashback of smiling boys making the best of a horrible situation. So joyous and playful, the particulars of their world are disguised until after they’ve left a surly group of Serbian military far from home. As an American with little knowledge of the conflict, those men in camouflage could be anyone. Only when Petrit’s father warns of curfew and Oki shows fear do we understand the danger of their situation.

Their nationality is quickly becoming disposable in their own birthplace by Serbian law enforcement. They’re supposed to learn in Serbian and adopt their ways despite home remaining Kosovo. The men Petrit befriends to earn a few bucks are an enemy so vile to his people’s existence that his actions prove traitorous. And for what? To make his face recognizable? To put his life in danger for the promise of pocket change yet the reality of potential slaughter? He’s a boy, though, and it’s easy to forget that the allure of danger and the desire to be a man can lead boys astray through false confidence and worth. But it isn’t long before Petrit is shown the truth. Unsurprisingly it’s Oki who supplies it.

What follows is a depiction of the horror Kosovo endured on an emotional, micro-scale—the short is based on true events. If Petrit and Oki wanted to be men, this is their opportunity with the highest stakes possible. It’s the chance to show humility and empathy, to go into the line of fire for those they love because the persecution they face is unjust. But it’s also an opportunity for the opposition to show how ruthless their war is. Donoughue pulls no punches providing the boys a chance at redemption while their remorseless enemy sits on the sidelines awaiting a moment to set an example. Shok delivers it with a deafening blow: heroism and martyrdom wrapped within the senseless violence mankind seems destined to continue repeating.

courtesy of Shorts HD

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