‘A PENSIVE PIECE OF CINEMA’ – London Front Row Reviews
‘A FIRST FEATURE AND A MASTERPIECE’ – Sight & Sound
‘AN ASSURED DEBUT’ – Göteborg International Film Festival
In Joni Shanaj’s multilayered debut, a young man returns from his studies in the US, only to fall in love with a mysterious blonde nurse who might be his physician father’s lover. Conspiracy thriller meets doomed romance, over a Hitchcockian blonde on whom its male characters project both their worst fears and desires. A brilliant study in people hurtling towards destruction.
EAST END FILM FESTIVAL
Pharmakon’s title refers to an Albanian scam where doctors profit from patients who buy drugs, but the film is more Roy Andersson than issue drama. The colour scheme is white-beige (director Joni Shanaj studied in Scandinavia). The first thing we see is a brutal slaughter of a donkey (and, later, an image of Robert Bresson’s donkey film Au hazard Balthazar). Soon we’re following a blond woozy young man as walks and watches a girl She’s the dead spit of Kim Novak in Vertigo – and is filmed as if she is. The buildings in the film are like those in Antonioni’s films, so Pharmakon’s cinephile credentials are intact. But it’s the somnambulant melancholia that grips, the awkwardness of the couple’s bodies, their hair, the way they speak to each other. The young man’s father is a creepy presence throughout, but then he gives a speech about solitude that could have been written by Jean-Claude Carriere. One journalist asked me, “Why are Albanian films not as good as Romanian and Turkish films?” In the case of Pharmakon, they are.
SIGHT & SOUND, Mark Cousins, January 2013.
Branko, a melancholy young man, has returned to his native country after studying abroad. He now runs a drugstore in a desolate suburb outside Tirana. Most things in his life, including the drugstore, are owned by his father Dr. Sokrat, a highly respected cancer specialst. Branko is shaken out of his rut when he meets Sara, a nurse who also turns out be dependent on Sokrat. [Pharmakon] is an assured debut about father-son conflict. Branko’s quest for solid truths also makes the film a coming of age story and even though Shanaj eschews political lecturing, it is obvious that the cynical, patriarchal system Branko is fighting on a personal level also symbolises corruption, power hunger and generational strife in Albanian society at large. Albania’s Oscar entry.
GÖTEBORG INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
#PHARMAKON: a film by Joni Shanaj.
#Winner of The Jury’s Special Price – Albanian National Film Festival 2012.
#Albanian Entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar at the 85th Academy Awards 2013.
#Award of Merit, Lucerne International Film Festival, 2013.
#Best Actress, Levante International Film Festival, 2013.