‘I like this film; it is visually nice and the rapper brothers are lovely characters trapped by the system.’
Although the title of this film refers to an static situation, Trapped by Law follows two brothers, Kefaet and Selamet Prizreni, who are forced to keep moving in order to escape the trap the law has caught them in.
During the Balkan war their parents settled in Germany, which is where the brothers grew up as children. One day, a bilateral agreement between Kosovo and Germany as well as other EU countries means that they and 10,000 other Roma in a similar situation are unexpectedly deported back to Kosovo, a country that they are not familiar with at all.
Sami Mustafa a Roma filmmaker from Priština, meets them at the airport and starts to follow their ‘stations of the cross’, ultimately shooting a film over many years. As if it were his own personal story, he himself gives a subjective, diary-like voiceover narration throughout the film, but this is only an addition to the brothers’ narratives. The latter are recorded in a stage-like room where they sit in armchairs with reflectors on them. This alienation device deprives the viewer of total immersion and creates a distance between the world of the scene and the actual reality. At the same time, this setting also links us to the brothers through the subjectivity of the Romani Kosovaro director, as if we were spending time with a stranger who we want to know more about.
After the protagonists travel through the country, in a style reminiscent of a short road movie, and get jobs working at a call centre, their mother arrives. She attempts to bring them back to Germany through Serbia, albeit without success.
At this point, the filmmaker has to give up his observational role and get involved in saving the two men from total depression and breakdown. Sami Mustafa and his wife, Charlotte Bohl, organise a film festival in Pristina, the Rolling Film Festival, so that they can accommodate and employ them, giving them the opportunity to use their creativity and talent. Both men used to play hip-hop in Germany in clubs, so they write songs about their situation and then hold workshops for Roma children all around the country. However, this temporary activity does not help.
In the third part of the film, after realising that they are forbidden from leaving the Balkan states, a real odyssey begins: they move from place to place every two or three months, searching for a proper living. Although they want to leave legally, they lose their hope and patience. Finally, the film ends with a forced but less than reassuring solution. Life justifies worries: according to the posts of the Facebook group created for the film in May 2017 Selami has been caught in a new vicious circle. His involvement in the marijuana business and the penalty that follows do not help to solve this difficult situation.
The film helps the viewers appreciate the situation and feel engaged through stylistic assets.
Sami Mustafa was partly trained by the prestigious ex-Yugoslavian director of the legendary Black Wave film movement (Novi Film), Želimir Žilnik. In 2004, the latter director made a fictional documentary about the same topic (Kenedi Goes Back Home) that was widely screened at festivals and even discussed by policymakers in the framework of the Roma Decade. The difference between their approach is striking, but unfortunately there is no way of measuring the effect of the two films. Nevertheless, if this film reaches a broad audience it can make a crucial contribution to the present Romani emancipation movement and struggle against the anti-human, bureaucratic systems of the state.
The world premiere was at the International Film Festival Jihlava in the Czech Republic, where it was nominated for Best Central and Eastern European Documentary as well as in competition for First Lights (first feature-length documentary director); it was also the opening film of Kasseler Dokfest in Germany. Among many other awards, the film was nominated for the Golden Key at Dokfest Kassel. It was also shown at the New York Festival Film Week and won the Best Film Award at the Albanian Film Week in Priština.