The Marriage

Blerta Zeqiri The Marriage is the Kosovar submission to the 91st Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film. It’s completely understandable why the powers that be in Kosovo picked this film above all others. It is a stark, yet powerful, portrait of lost and forbidden love.

At the outset of the film, we meet Bekim (Alban Ukaj), a good-looking guy with a love for dogs. He has joined his fiance, Anita (Adriana Matoshi) at a camp where every month, more and more remains from the Bosnia-Herzegovina conflict are still being found. Anita’s parents had been missing for 15 years, and each time the remains are released, her parents’ are never among them. When we first meet Anita and Bekim, they seem to be in a stable relationship and are incredibly close to their wedding.

Later that day, the couple goes to the bar that Bekim owns, when a man greets Bekim, and he seems to be a bit shocked. The man is Nol (Genc Salihu), an old friend of his that lived in the same house as he did during the war with him and his parents. The three end up having a nice drunk night out together. With the return of Nol, things begin to unravel. Bekim’s behavior becomes erratic, in one instance while arguing with Anita in the car, she gets out and says she will walk. At first, Bekim tells her to get back in, but then just drives away and leaves her there, not talking to her for several days.

“…Bekim and Nol weren’t just best friends back in the day, they were in love…”

Anita never really discovers the reasoning behind this, but we do. Bekim and Nol weren’t just best friends back in the day, they were in love. Bekim does not identify as gay to anyone in his life, and even at one point in the film, denies an LGBTQ organization access from throwing a party at his bar. He’s extremely ashamed of his true self, but he’s still deeply in love with Nol. At one point he says to Nol “When I have a fight with Anita, and she gets pissed off, I couldn’t care less. In fact, I say ‘Good, I hope this lasts.’ What I want to say is that’s when I realized I never loved anyone as I loved you.”

Anita somehow never discovers that the two had this shared history, she just knows that Bekim “gets drunk and into trouble” when he’s around Nol. Which is something that Zana, Bekim’s sister, says to Anita to keep her from investigating further. Bekim’s family desperately wants the wedding to go forward, despite whatever Bekim may do to get in his own way. Even if he may be happier with Nol in the long run, Bekim does his best to fulfill his family’s wishes, even though he messes up several times.

I was very moved by this film. I feel as though everyone has the one person in the back of their mind that “got away.” Most of us are lucky enough that they stay gone once we move on with our lives. Some of us aren’t so lucky, and then there are the ones who seek out our lost loves, to try to gain some closure or to attempt to revisit a past that doesn’t exist anymore.  Bekim may seem like an unsympathetic character to some people because he can’t seem to make up his mind as to who he should be with at the end of the day. I sympathize entirely and feel that what he’s going through is a very human problem.

“…a fantastic script that shows us just how much life can get in the way of true love…”

What makes it sadder to me is the internalized homophobia that Bekim suffers, which won’t allow him to be with the one person he loves more than anything else. It’s also infuriating that he won’t admit the truth about himself to Anita, which could spare her a lot of heartache in the long run. In a way, I believe that Bekim loves both her and Nol. The love he has for each of them is different, but neither is less valid than the other.

Plenty of us have had to make difficult choices between two people we love, and often people end up with the person who will cause them the least amount of pain, even if that isn’t necessarily the one whom they love the most or have loved the longest. It’s treacherous terrain to navigate, and it’s all a part of being human. The Marriage shows us this problematic side of love with no judgment, which is incredibly refreshing.

The three principal actors are incredible in their roles, especially Alban Ukaj as Bekim. Blerta Zeqiri and  Kreshnik Keka Berisha wrote a fantastic script that shows us just how much life can get in the way of “true love,” and how that concept is nearly undefinable in real life anyway. It also shows how uber-traditional Eastern European families still are and will be til the end of time. The emphasis on having children is so strong and overbearing that the children end up having children out of guilt or just to get their families to shut the hell up.

I could watch The Marriage over and over again. At 90 minutes, it’s just so delightfully heartbreaking. You can rent it now on Amazon Video, and you should totally do it before the Oscar nominees are announced, so hurry up!

The Marriage (2018) Directed by Blerta Zeqiri. Written by Blerta Zeqiri and Kreshnik Keka Berisha. Starring Alban Ukaj, Adriana Matoshi, Genc Salihu, Vjosa Abazi, Kumrije Hoxha.

9 out of 10 stars

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