Honeymoons -- Film Review

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Venice Film Festival, Venice Days/Critics Week

VENICE -- Following in the wake of Goran Paskaljevic's Serbian trilogy -- "The Powder Keg," "Midwinter Night's Dream" and "The Optimists" -- "Honeymoons" addresses the Balkan youth drain, in a tale about two young couples, one Serbian and one Albanian, who leave their countries to seek greener pastures in Europe. The story is familiar but it is told with masterful skill that involves the audience deeply in the social and family context of the would-be emigres. The film has the distinction of being the first Serbian-Albanian co-production and offers a rare glimpse into today's Albania, which has only recently begun to emerge on the international film scene.

Audiences who already appreciate the director's subtle cinematic storytelling will be surprised to find a new streak of Balkan humor in the Serbian part of the tale, not the cruel ironies of "The Optimists" but comedy of a more traditional, open-hearted kind, where grotesquely real characters get smashed at a jolly wedding presided over by actor Lazar Ristovski. Albanian co-scripter Genc Permeti, instead, contrasts the wildly different lifestyles of backwoods and city folk in a country rocketing out of the worst form of Communism and into a trashy West.

The stories of the two young couples run parallel throughout the film. On a remote mountain somewhere in Albania, a mother weeps for her son, who has been missing since trying to cross over into Italy years before on a rubber raft. His fiancee Maylinda (Nirela Naska), poised between tradition and the modern world, is courted by the missing boy's brother Nik (Jozef Shiroka). But their marriage is impossible under the circumstances and, as a last resort, Nik procures Italian visas for the two of them. While attending a cousin's wedding in Tirana, they sneak away and elope.

If the Albanian story is dramatic, the Serbian tale is more relaxed. Belgrade-dwellers Vera (Jelena Trkulja) and her cellist husband, Marko (Nebojsa Milovanovic), visit Vera's hometown for a cousin's wedding. Vera's father (Petar Bozovic) and uncle (Ristovski) are on different political wavelengths and have been feuding for years. The uncle's party is the swaggering winner, the father's the bitter loser, and the wedding brings tension to a head.

Paskaljevic is a master of framing and long takes, in which one emotion follows another like waves in the same shot. The weddings expertly blend humor and drama, closeups and group photos, hope for reconciliation and its negation. The last part of the film turns genuinely frightening as it details, in a more predictable narrative framework, Vera and Marko's train journey to Hungary and Nik and Maylinda's sea voyage to Italy. The fact that the two couples never meet is immaterial, since viewers will have no trouble paralleling their stories, but it does short-circuit the expected emotional payoff in a subtle, open-ended finale.

Production company: Nova Film, Beograd Film, Ska-ndal
Cast: Nebojsa Milovanovic, Jelena Trkulja, Jozef Shiroka, Mirela Naska, Bujar Lako, Ylika Mujo, Lazar Ristovski, Petar Bozovic, Danica Ristoviski, Fabrizio Buompastore, Domenico Mongeli, Aron Balazs
Director: Goran Paskaljevic
Screenwriters: Goran Paskaljevic, Genc Permeti
Producers: Goran Paskaljevic, Ilir Butka, Nikola Djivanovic
Director of photography: Milan Spasic
Production designer: Zeljko Antovic, Durim Neziri
Costumes: Lana Pavlovic, Durim Neziri
Editor: Petar Putnikovic
Sales Agent: Nova Films, Paris
95 minutes
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