Three young and free-spirited women decide to escape their daily lives and form a gang.

Cast: Flaka Latifi, Urate Shnabani, Era Balaj, Andi Bagora

Directors: Luàna Bajrami 
Writers: Luàna Bajrami 

The directorial debut from French-Kosovar actress Luàna Bajrami is a solid female lead story about wanting more from life than what’s laid out for you. It’s at times hectic, but given the under-ninety minute run-time, you’re given little room to overthink the plot threads that aren’t returned too and instead, the film’s final moments linger with you for hours. 

Qe (Flaka Latifi), Li (Era Balaj) and Jeta (Uratë Shabani) are kindred-family and closest confidants. Their small-town life and what’s been promised to them isn’t what they want, even if it’s what their family has laid out for them. Qe doesn’t want to get stuck working at her families salon, Li seeks bigger things in life, and Jeta, orphaned, has the direst need to escape the harassment of her Uncle at home. All three are planning to submit University applications and flee to Europe, where places like France sound so much like fantasia to them. Of course, all of these things require money — which they don’t have, and the film will see the girls slowly ramp how they earn what they can.

Bajrami and cinematographer Hugo Paturel paint a decaying town through the eyes of the girls. Buildings are falling apart, the location is remote, and we barely touch the centre of the village apart from brief visits to Qe’s family’s barber. When Luàna Bajrami makes a brief appearance as a young French girl on holiday, she counterbalances our trio’s outlook at their home. Although never going as far as to say, “it’s not that bad here,” it does feel close. It’s not the town itself, though, that’s the problem; it’s the people, it’s the feeling that it’s a prison, and the desire to break free of their cages is what makes these lionesses roar.

The film teases the eventual crime spree the girls embark on, but there’s little in the way of conversation around what happens if they get caught. Or if those around them could be affected. Be that family or Li’s boyfriend Zem (Andi Bajgora) quickly introduced and accepted into the group dynamic. It’s this blasé feeling for life but a trio that feels such a desire to want more from it that sometimes feels at odds with the narrative. They’re carefree in life, and they certainly have punk-rock attitudes, but they also want to get a good education. 

The Hills Where Lionesses Road is a showcase across the board; Luàna Bajrami has a solid directorial ability, while Flaka LatifiEra Balaj and Uratë Shabani debut with solid performances. Everyone involved in this film is someone to watch either in front of or behind the camera.

The Hill Where Lionesses Roar was screened online as part of MIFF Play. The film doesn’t currently have a release date.