Marking the directorial debut of French-Kosovan actress Luàna Bajrami, The Hills Where Lionesses Roar (Title in original language: La colline où rugissent les lionnes) takes place in Kosovo. The film focuses on three teenage girls who dream of attending university and escaping their small town, only for them to form a gang and resort to petty crimes to alleviate their boredom.
When audiences first meet Jeta (Shabani), Li (Balaj) and Qe (Latifi), the frustration with their life is palpable. They hang out on the nearby hill or local disused house, and barely interact with anyone except each other. The only hope on the horizon is the prospect of university being the only hope they have for the foreseeable future. With all of their eggs in one basket, the evident boredom of the group accentuates the film’s mercurial dialogue, which ranges from the mundane to the temperamental, so conversations among the characters can lag in places.
The Hills Where Lionesses Roar also lightly touches on the trope of a fourth girl joining the group as a catalyst in the narrative. Similar to films such as Mean Girls, The Craft and Girlhood, the trio’s ordinary life is disrupted by Lena (Bajrami), a girl from Paris who is holidaying with her grandmother. Her sudden intrusion of sorts evokes brief interest with Qe offering an olive branch, but this quickly sours as Lena’s discontent of Paris while preferring to the quietness of their Kosovan town highlights her indifference to a freedom that the trio envies but is constantly denied.
In fact, Bajrami’s subtle insight to the France-Kosovo relations builds enough intrigue to the girls’ social situation to further develop the narrative. As they continually face obstacles that prevent them from happiness and promise (mostly driven by dominating male figures), their resolve doesn’t break – instead, their struggle becomes a subject of empowerment. A key scene occurs when Li resiliently protests to a teacher, stating that she wants a ‘chance’ at university, but is eventually talked down. In desperate need for independence, the girls refuse to surrender to their ‘prison’ of a town and take matters into their own hands, taking the narrative in a new and spirited direction. When the girls finally get a taste of freedom, it allows the three relatively unknown leads to elevate their commanding performances to deliver a liberated insight to independence. As a result, the combination of the three grounded performances and Bajrami’s delicate direction beautifully encapsulate the closeness of the girls’ friendship amid their isolated surroundings to offer a contemplative coming-of-age drama.
Overall, The Hills Where Lionesses Roar comes across as a slow journey to freedom but beneath Bajrami’s bold narrative and the sun-kissed cinematography lies a quietly empowering message.
Director: Luàna Bajrami
Stars: Flaka Latifi, Urate Shabani, Era Balaj,
Runtime: 83 minutes
Country: Kosovo, France