Making a film featuring a gay love triangle may be an interesting choice for a country that has questionable, albeit increasingly better, LGBTQ+ rights, but it’s also a bold and defining one.
Selected as Kosovo’s official Oscar entry for ‘Foreign Film’, ‘The Marriage’ not only brings gay characters out of the shadows but also shows a thriving and talented film industry ready to face the music and dance.
‘The Marriage’ starts off as any romantic movie may. We meet Bekim (Alban Ukaj) and Anita (Adriana Matoshi), a young couple who are gearing up for their wedding day. Set in the Balkans after the civil war, the remnants of a conflicted past are not just experienced from the war. Returning from France, Bekim’s friend Nol (Genc Salihu) walks back into his life and we discover the past contains more than a friendship.
Bekim’s response to the return of Nol shows a man divided in who he is and who society and his family expect him to be. It’s a story many people will relate to, especially in countries and territories that still haven’t adjusted laws to include the rights of LGBTQ+ people. Kosovo is far from an LGBTQ-inclusion zone, either.
In a statement, director Blerta Zeqiri acknowledes this head on, saying: “LGBT community members, although protected by the Kosovo laws, are continuously threatened, humiliated and physically attacked, to which the state turns a blind eye.” In fact, it’s reported that more than 80 percent of LGBTQ+ people in Kosovo had been subjected to psychological abuse due to their sexuality.
Zeqiri, who picked up a Sundance short film jury prize for ‘Kthimi’ in 2012, said she wanted to film with a hyper-realistic style. This approach allows us to feel for the characters and understand more about their actions. We see them for their flaws, as well as their redeeming features. “For me it is unacceptable and at the same time incomprehensible to see two people who love each other so much unable to be together,” Zeqiri adds.
I wanted to make a hyper-realistic film, where characters actions are followed closely by a hand-held camera.
I wanted, at least for a moment, to make the audience leave the three main characters’ gender aside and feel for them in this complicated triangle, where no decision is without a victim or suffering.
This battle of acceptance and tolerance is noted in ‘The Marriage’. The true extent of Bekim and Nol’s past is always a closely-guarded secret, as we discover through a series of flashbacks and present moments. Presumably, while people get close to discovering this years-old secret, it’s deemed too farfetched to be ever considered.
“Hiding their identity remains the only way to survive in this surrounding, forcing a large number of LGBT people to marry eventually a partner of an opposite sex, who inadvertently turns into collateral damage,” Zeqiri added.
What’s most enticing about ‘The Marriage’ is everything it stood to lose. Not only made in a country where LGBTQ+ rights are just coming into proper discussion, the filmmakers and cast involved also took risks with their own careers. For example, Genc Salihu is the country’s biggest musician and has been a judge on the Albanian version of ‘The Voice’ (‘The Marriage’ is his first acting role). Despite all fears, reaction to the film has been resounding.
In an interview with TheWrap, Zeqiri noted how they were prepared for protests in response to the film. Instead, she said: “We didn’t receive any threats, nothing at all. We even had nice comments from people who were not supporters of gay rights.”
The fact that the Kosovo Oscar selection committee chose this film to represent its country in undoubtedly the biggest film event is testament to how ‘The Marriage’ is the little film that could. A glowing response in its home country alongside this kind of global recognition is priceless for the LGBTQ+ community in Kosovo. While it won’t change attitudes overnight, it’s a hopeful sign for the many people living in fear due to who they are.
“This is why I think same sex love in Kosovo is today’s Romeo and Juliet story,” Zeqiri concluded.