Blerta Zeqiri's feature film debut The Marriage is marketed as the story of an atypical love triangle that unfolds on the background of the recent Kosovo war. Advertising it as such somewhat underestimates this drama, which sensitively explores concepts of love, family and identity without becoming the soap opera that it could have.
The context is chillingly established in the bleak opening scene where the remains of numerous unidentified bodies from the war are being examined by a solemn procession of people waiting to identify missing relatives.
Among them are couple Anita (Adriana Matoshi) and Bekim (Alban Ukaj), who are engaged to be married. Anita's parents have been missing since the war and she joins the quiet crowd waiting anxiously in the bitter cold for the possibility of identifying their lost loved ones.
Following this, the film follows the relationship between the two as they plan toward the big day, negotiating renovations, aspirations and familial expectations. Theirs is a warm, loving, relatable partnership that seems somewhat of a relieving breath in light of the recent past.
Soon, however, comes the return from France of Bekim's close friend Nol (Genc Salihu), following his heart to return to Kosovo in search of his former lover - Bekim. The trio discuss his misery over a lost and unrequited love, Bekim squirming and Anita blissfully oblivious the fact that this ex "girlfriend" of Nol's is in fact her own fiancé.
Perhaps my only gripe with the film is how Anita seems to remain for so long unaware of the attraction and relationship, both past and present, that evolves between the two men in parallel to her own life. She is a strong female character who likely will earn the sympathy of most viewers, and her ignorance of this somewhat unjustly discredits her.
The three leads are wonderful. You find yourself torn between achingly sympathising with each one in turn as they so veritably portray their individual characters' struggles.
Director Blerta Zeqiri was present at the Sydney Film Festival debut screening, and described how the filming process for this, her first feature film, took almost 5 years to make - "we put a lot of heart and love into it".
Initially the war was not going to feature as part of the storyline but was later added, with the explanation that without it "it was not real enough". Zeqiri explained, "we were all touched by the war" and that not including it or the people's experiences of it and of post war Kosovo "felt that I was not portraying our society right".
The Marriage surpasses its descriptors as an LGBT rom-com or soap opera, as a moving dramatic exploration of love and all its conflicts on the background of a post war society.
The Marriage screened as part of The Sydney Film Festival.
In Albanian with English subtitles