'The Marriage' ('Martesa'): Film Review
A couple's engagement is threatened by unresolved issues in Blerta Zeqiri's Kosovan relationship drama.
A field where people await the exhumed bodies of loved ones they lost years ago is not an auspicious place to start the story of a marriage. But the legacy of 1999's Kosovo War is not the only specter hanging over impending nuptials in Blerta Zeqiri's The Marriage, a slow-developing relationship drama recently named as Kosovo's submission for next year's foreign-language Oscar.
Readers who'd rather not know just what kind of skeletons await in the film's closets should avoid reading anything about the picture: The big surprise is spoiled in the IMDb logline and most synopses, despite the fact that the movie waits an hour before dropping the bomb. But since most of that first hour turns out to be just prelude for the main crisis, we should now shout "spoiler alert!" and get on with things in the next paragraph.
Alban Ukaj and Adriana Matoshi play Bekim and Anita, who are set to be married in a week or two. Anita has yet to confirm the deaths of her parents, who almost certainly perished in the war but whose bodies haven't been found; nevertheless, she's getting on with life, debating plans for the renovated kitchen in the apartment they'll share after the wedding. The couple are just settling in for a night of planning at the bar Bekim owns when they discover an uninvited guest: Nol (Genc Salihu), a friend from Bekim's youth who has since become a famous musician in France. Anita, a little starstruck, is happy to welcome him into the proceedings.
At a dress fitting the next day, a seamstress who knows both men is uneasy; Bekim and Nol get into trouble when they're together, she says. We assume she's talking about drunken mayhem, and ensuing scenes back this up: After the three go drinking together, things get so sloppy that Bekim and Anita hurt each other's feelings and go their separate ways. For a bit, it looks like the wedding might be called off. Which would probably be wise, given the secret Bekim has kept: Before Nol left town, the two were lovers.
Given how much this news enlivens the drama, it's hard to justify Zeqiri's reluctance to spill the beans. Up to now, the film has sometimes seemed intent on boring us — as in a scene of a family dinner at which relatives (and soon-to-be in-laws) won't stop telling each other what to eat. Oddly placed flashbacks afford glimpses into Anita's youth and the couple's first meeting, but the script neither milks the anxiety inherent in wedding-planning nor explores the uncertainty about the bride's parents. Bekim's mother may be something of a well-meaning busybody on the latter front, but hints of a major faux-pas come to nothing.
Instead, the final half-hour feels like its own featurette, putting Ukaj and Salihu in rooms alone together and letting them wallow in everything that has gone unresolved between their characters. Both actors do fine work here, despite sometimes underwritten scenes, leaving our sympathies confused. Should Bekim be getting married? Should Nol have left him to move on? Only a line or two in their scenes together (and a brief but violent street fight) serve to remind us that, in this part of the world, being gay can be as dangerous as being on the wrong side of a war. No wonder they keep things to themselves for so long.
Production companies: Beze, Bunker Film Plus
Distributor: Uncork'd Entertainment
Cast: Alban Ukaj, Adriana Matoshi, Genc Salihu, Vjosa Abazi
Director: Blerta Zeqiri
Screenwriters: Blerta Zeqiri, Kreshnik Keka Berisha
Producer-Editor: Kreshnik Keka Berisha
Director of photography: Sevdije Kastrati
Production designer: Lendita Zeqiraj
Costume designer: Yllka Brada
Casting director: Blerta Basholli