Homosexuality is slowly growing out of its reputation as a taboo topic with Blerta Zeqiri’s ingenious Kosovar masterpiece, The Marriage (Martesa). Centered on the love story and companionship of two estranged soul mates, the motion picture sheds light on the secrecy, isolation and self-deception LGBT people experience in an attempt to conceal their sexual orientation. Taking a closer look at bigotry in Albanian society and culture, Zeqiri brings the viewer a refreshing and eye-opening perspective on deception, relationships and long-lasting love.
A decade after the Kosovo War, Bekim (Alban Ukaj) and Anita (Adriana Matoshi) are still plagued by the aftermath of the harrowing bloodshed. Having met in a bar owned by the former, the two share a strong bond from the beginning. They are now engaged and on their way to a ghastly facility on the Serbian border where they hope to find remnants of Anita’s missing parents. However, uncertainty still taints the minds of both lovers as the young woman does not find what she was looking for. And neither has Bekim, as the viewer soon learns when Nol (Genc Salihu) enters the picture.
The latter is an old and very close friend of Bekim’s who seems to foster more than the platonic feelings of a camaraderie for the young man. As it turns out, the two experience much more together than best friends normally do and harbor a love that transcends initial lust and potentially even familial bonds and obligations. After Nol is assaulted by a group of religious zealots and terribly injured, Bekim picks him up from the police station and the two share one of the most heartwarming sex scenes in queer cinema history. The script and execution are not at all revealing or lewd as one might expect, but instead focus on the tenderness and companionship of gay love. What ensues are lies, half-truths and a whole lot of drama as a love triangle slowly begins to form between the three partners.
Brilliant storytelling is at the core of Zeqiri’s debut feature film. Crisp and daring, the motion picture brazenly tackles heavy topics like familial duty, betrayal, and long-term commitment, all of which are superimposed on the nitty-gritty of secret gay love. Make no mistake – the script seems to be fairly plain and overused (albeit with a twist) at first glance: boy meets soon-to-be married boy and begins a passionate affair with him, constructing convoluted lie upon lie in order to cover up the truth. Offering a unique sneak peek at modern life, The Marriage (Martesa) questions whether or not we should love or continue to love merely out of obligation or the familiarity of a shared life. The main trio is raw, charming and flawlessly depicted in its complexity. The frantic struggle to escape the ghosts of the past and the temptations of newly-felt infatuation turn our beloved characters into a viciously honest and crude love triangle that is fascinating to watch as it unfolds only to crash and burn towards the end.
Zeqiri’s ability to immerse the viewer into the story through clever transitions and well-placed, sensible flashbacks stands out throughout the entire movie. Her use of such elements, as well as the impeccable execution form an innovative time lapse that completely revitalizes the long-obsolete genre of coming-of-age pictures. The cast is truly an inspired choice, as it manages to turn a rather mediocre narrative plot into a powerful and heartrending story about loss and loyalty in romantic relationships. Not to take away from Zeqiri’s unearthly directorial efforts, but the sublime performances clearly carry the film in its entirety – Ukaj, Matoshi and Salihu are all blissful and unequivocally impressive both collectively and separately. But together, the three artists forge an unmatched performance that depicts both despair and exhilaration in a way that is so relatable and intimate that the viewer is bound to find themselves fully absorbed and consumed by the lives of at least one of these characters.
Moving and sympathetic to the struggles of Kosovan LGBT people, The Marriage (Martesa) draws us into a world of gentleness, pleasure and excitement that, for better or for worse, makes homophobia fade into the background. The film reunites three breathtaking performances and combines uncensored dialogue with handheld cameras to create a blunt and down-to-earth account of how past love and denial of one’s identity impacts trust and connection in intimate relationships.