Thoroughly satisfying as both a drama and an exploration of deeper sociopolitical issues, Serbian writer-helmer Goran Paskaljevic’s “Honeymoons” juxtaposes stories of two couples longing to escape Serbia and Albania. Given its clear-eyed but not excessively cynical stance on the problems facing each nation, it seems appropriate that the pic should rep the first-ever co-production between the countries. Displaying typical skill with ensemble storytelling, Paskaljevic has fashioned a compelling work that ought to enjoy a honeymoon on the fest circuit and moderate success in its countries of origin, with possible pickups offshore, especially in neighboring territories.
Pic’s entwined storylines both feature couples trying to escape their homelands, and several other major and minor motifs. It’s stressed that the tales are unfolding at the same time, but the quasi-mystical tone found elsewhere in Paskaljevic’s work (“How Harry Became a Tree”) is largely absent, replaced by a more realist register, rooted in the here and now.
The Albanian-set section revolves around a poor provincial family. Three years ago, eldest son Iler set off for Italy in a rubber boat to make his fortune and was never heard from again. Mother Veno (YllkaMujo) refuses to believe he’s dead, while Iler’s father, Rok (Bujar Lako), and younger brother, Nik (Jozef Shiroka), tacitly accept the probability. Iler’s fiancee, Maylinda (Mirela Naska), lives among them, unable to return to her own family because of tradition, but she and Nik secretly have feelings for one another.
When the family heads to the capital for a cousin’s wedding, Nik reveals he’s arranged visas for himself and Maylinda to go to Italy, and they slip away by boat. But they’re met with suspicion and hostility on their arrival, and Nik is held back, suspected of involvement in the killing of two Italian soldiers in Kosovo.
Meanwhile, in Serbia, professional cellist Marko (Nebojsa Milovanovic) and his wife, Vera (Jelena Trkulja) also leave home to attend a cousin’s wedding, a rambunctious — and finely staged — affair that Vera’s uncle (Lazar Ristovski) has contrived explicitly to piss off his invalid brother (Petar Bozovic), Vera’s father. As the raki flows, arguments percolate and violence looms, reinforcing the young couple’s decision to go by train to Vienna, where Marko has an audition for the Vienna Philharmonic. But they face almost exactly the same border troubles experienced by Nik and Maylinda.
Naturalism is strained slightly by the need for the characters to explain complex backstories from time to time, but otherwise, the script by Paskaljevic and Albanian writer Genc Permeti moves at a pacy clip that nevertheless lets each plotline develop in timely fashion. Never one to apologize for his homeland’s brutal excesses, Paskaljevic paints the Serbs in a slightly less flattering light than the Albanian characters, but the onerous weight of absurd traditions and pointless feuds is felt in both storylines.
Perfs are solid and harmoniously tuned throughout, with particularly good thesping from Lako and Mujo and appropriately big-gestured turns from Paskaljevic regulars Ristovski and Bozovic as the brothers who hate each other with a passion.
Milan Spasic’s lensing comes into its own in night scenes especially, and looks good enough to suggest that the decision to shoot on HD was motivated by aesthetics as much as budget. Other tech credits are fine.