The Rise and Fall of Comrade Zylo (2023)

February 26th, 2023
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Fatmir Koci; Cast: Alex Seitaj, Donald Shebu, Enisa Hysa, Jorida Meta, Amos MujiZaharia, Xhona Karaj, Petrit Malaj, Samuel Vargu; Albania 2022, 119 min.

Fatmir Koci’s amusing drama takes place in Albania, at the height of the Cold War when Stalinist functionaries, banal but powerful, tried to stay in their jobs against a tide of permanent change. The film is based on Dritero Agollis 1973 satirical novel of the same name, adapted for the screen by co-writer Mike Downey

The Soviet bureaucrats’ incompetence is highlighted by the plight of aspiring author Demka (Shehu), who has given up his own writing to churn out speeches for his superiors in the Cultural Department. The main benefactor of Demka’s output is the Zylo (Seitaj), whose ‘follies de grandeur’ are bolstered by his other half Adila (Hysa), while his oldest son Diogenio (Vargu) is a “Wunderkind” composer, in reality, just a fraud like his father. Zylo and his wife are friends with the playwright Adam Adashi (Zaharia)) and his wife Cleopatra (Meta). Another character called Zenepja (Karaj) cannot deal with his bitterness about his own literary career manque – or his neglect of her – and orders him to quit his job.

Adashi’s play “The Storm is defeated” leads to a fall-out between Zylo and other members of his department: some are keen, others condemn the work, and Zylo is left trying to guess which side his boss Comrade Q (Malaj) will come down on. Meanwhile he complains that Demka is too slow in his speech writing – largely because the poor man is bogged down with Zylo’s endless re-writes. Adila is in love with her husband’s literary output, unaware that another man is actually penning them, namely Demka, who she flirts with at a reception for an old-fashioned Albanian folklore band.

Some scenes are particularly farcical: Zylo’s obsession with the idea of bringing Socialism to West Africa. He, Demka and Cleopatra visit the dark continent, but their meetings with government officials are non-events due to it being ‘harvest time’. During their trip Demksenses there is something going on between his boss and Cleopatra, and he is not far wrong. On another occasion, Zylo takes Demka on a visit to the countryside where he wants to impress the local leaders with his cultural plans, but he ends up getting drunk and frightening his guests with a revolver. But dark clouds are gathering over Zylo, who also happens to be a sleepwalker. 

DoP Marek Wesolowski showcases the protagonists in Ozu-style medium shots, and turns to black-and-white when describing Demka’s dreams of a better life. But despite Koci’s enthusiasm for the subject, there are just too many one-dimensional characters involved in a self-indulgent drama highlighted by its absurdist humour. AS

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