You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The Marriage’

Amid the legacy of the Kosovan war, an engaged couple's attempt to build a future is threatened by the groom's secrets.

Blerta Zeqiri
Alban Ukaj, Adriana Matoshi, Genc Salihu, Vjosa Abazi. (Albanian dialogue)

1 hour 37 minutes

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6665464/

The personal is subtly political in Blerta Zeqiri’s compelling and compassionate relationship drama “The Marriage.” Paralleling the unquiet recent history of the contested nation-state of Kosovo with the lives and interactions of three of its inhabitants, Zeqiri has crafted an exceptionally well-performed, absorbing and empathetic first feature. Transforming gradually from an authentic and insightful portrait of middle-class life in contemporary Pristina into a gay love story, the film is guaranteed wide exposure, especially in festivals with dedicated queer cinema sidebars, following its well-received premiere at Tallinn’s Black Nights. But, arguably, the movie transcends even that ever-broadening category — its inevitable description as an LGBT-themed work is almost a spoiler, as the picture is anything but a single-issue melodrama. Rather, it is a relevant, relatable and rewarding snapshot of how a society grows crookedly around its unresolved secrets, in the same way that a marriage can.

It was a decade after the Kosovo War of 1998-99, that the Republic of Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia. And though there’s nothing heavy-handed about Zeqiri’s fresh and engaging film, the first scene sets up that context: Bekim (Alban Ukaj) is accompanying his fiancee Anita (Adriana Matoshi) to a dreary, freezing-cold facility on the Serbian border where the latest round of unclaimed bodies from the war have been exhumed in the hopes they can be identified. Anita’s parents have been missing since the war, but she does not find them here, and there’s a sense, as they drive back home together, that her engagement to Bekim is the expression of a desire to move on with a life that has for too long been in a holding pattern of not knowing.

Their relationship, however, seems warm and genuine. In cleverly used flashback scenes (that often do such a good job of de-aging the actors that one wonders if this was some sort of “Boyhood”-esque experiment shot over many years) we track the natural, effervescent beginnings of their courtship. Like many modern thirtysomethings, they met in a bar (the one that Bekim runs, in fact), got drunk and giggly together, fell into bed and now some time later are planning to be married. But the return of Nol (Genc Salihu), an old friend of Bekim’s, from a successful musical career in Paris changes the dynamic in ways Anita does not understand. Though the three of them bond effortlessly over several drunken nights, the secret Bekim is hiding is that he, and not his sister Zana (Vjosa Abazi), is the great love for whom Nol is pining.

The film shifts focus gradually but irrevocably from Anita to Bekim, as he tries to reconcile his feelings for Nol with his idea of familial duty and the prevalent homophobia of Kosovar society. In so doing, he sells Anita short, of course, and if there is one critique of Zeqiri’s approach it’s that her otherwise taut screenplay (co-written with Keka Kreshnik Berisha) rather does the same. The small-scale tragedies of love suppressed and betrayed are everywhere, but it is the unaware Anita who most deserves our sympathy, heading into marriage to a man who is not committing to her as much as to a lifetime of duplicity. Yet having been roundedly personified as an eccentric, sometimes even raucous, character whose unjust destiny, it seems, is to be lied to by people who can pretend that they’re shielding her from harsh truths, she’s relegated to the background. A final, slightly redundant scene between Bekim and Nol would perhaps have been more satisfying if it had instead reconnected Nol and Anita, however ambivalently.

Still, that’s a minor point in an otherwise confident, clever chronicle of modern life in a cinematically underserved corner of the world. Sevdije Kastrati’s warm-toned, handheld camerawork puts us in close contact with this intimate story, and co-writer Berisha’s editing is fluid and efficient. But the make-or-break element of this kind of up-close-and-personal storytelling is the acting, and the performances of all three principals (who, as an ensemble, picked up a Special Jury Prize in Tallinn) are unimpeachably strong, elevating what could on paper be a classified as soap opera into an impactful and moving human drama. In three characters and their intricate interrelation, a whole nation’s complex and cauterized attitude to its history is laid bare even as a universal story of love, lies and self-deception emerges. Like all the best and most provocative allegories, it’s an imperfect one, but with deceptive dexterity and lightness of touch, “The Marriage” relates the pains of building a new life on top of the secrets of the old, to the conundrum of a society that has to move relentlessly forward without knowing where the bodies of the past are buried.

Film Review: 'The Marriage'

Reviewed in Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival (competing), Nov. 29, 2017. Running Time: 97 MIN. (Original Title: Martesa)

Production: (Kosovo-Albania) A bézé production, in co-production with Bunker Film+. (International Sales: Wide, Paris). Producer: Keka Kreshnik Berisha.

Crew: Director: Blerta Zeqiri. Screenplay: Zeqiri, Keka Kreshnik Berisha. Camera (color): Sevdije Kastrati. Editor: Berisha.

With: Alban Ukaj, Adriana Matoshi, Genc Salihu, Vjosa Abazi. (Albanian dialogue)

More Film

  • Steve Bannon appears in The Brink

    Sundance Film Review: Stephen K. Bannon in 'The Brink'

    Stephen K. Bannon drinks Kombucha (who knew?), the fermented tea beverage for health fanatics that tastes like…well, if they ever invented a soft drink called Germs, that’s what Kombucha tastes like. In “The Brink,” Alison Klayman’s fly-on-the-wall, rise-and-fall-and-rise-of-a-white-nationalist documentary, Bannon explains that he likes Kombucha because it gives him a lift; he drinks it for [...]

  • Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith

    Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith Dies at 78

    Walt Disney Archives founder Dave Smith, the historian who spent 40 years cataloging and preserving the company’s legacy of entertainment and innovation, died Friday in Burbank, Calif. He was 78. Smith served as Disney’s chief archivist from 1970 to 2010. He was named a Disney Legend in 2007 and served as a consultant to the [...]

  • Oscar OScars Placeholder

    Cinematographers Praise Academy Reversal: 'We Thank You for Your Show of Respect'

    Cinematographers who fought the decision to curtail four Oscar presentations have praised the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for reversing the exclusions. “We thank you for your show of respect for the hard-working members of the film community, whose dedication and exceptional talents deserve the public recognition this reversal now allows them to enjoy,” [...]

  • Peter Parker and Miles Morales in

    'Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse' Colored Outside the Lines

    The well-worn superhero genre and one of its best-known icons are unlikely vehicles for creating a visually fresh animated feature. But Sony Pictures Animation’s work on the Oscar-nominated animated feature “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” shows throwing out the rule book and letting everyone play in the creative sandbox can pay off big. “I think we [...]

  • Denis Villeneuve

    Denis Villeneuve's 'Dune' Gets November 2020 Release Date

    Warner Bros. has scheduled Legendary’s science-fiction tentpole “Dune” for a Nov. 20, 2020, release in 3D and Imax. “Aquaman” star Jason Momoa is in negotiations to join the “Dune” reboot with Timothee Chalamet, Javier Bardem, Rebecca Ferguson, Stellan Skarsgard, Dave Bautista, Josh Brolin, Oscar Isaac, and Zendaya. Production is expected to launch in the spring [...]

  • James Bond Spectre

    Bond 25 Moved Back Two Months to April 2020

    James Bond will arrive two months later than planned as MGM moved back the release date on the untitled Bond 25 movie from Feb. 14 to April 8, 2020 — a Wednesday before the start of Easter weekend. It’s the second delay for Bond 25. MGM and Eon originally announced in 2017 that the film [...]

  • Fast and Furious 8

    'Fast and Furious 9' Release Date Pushed Back Six Weeks

    Universal Pictures has shifted “Fast and Furious 9” back six weeks from April 10 to May 22, 2020 — the start of the Memorial Day weekend. It’s the second backwards shift for the title. In 2017, Universal moved the film back a year from April 19, 2019, to April 10, 2020. Both dates fall on [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content