The Marriage, directed by Blerta Zeqiri, is Kosovo’s Oscar entry.
In The Marriage Their, Anita and Bekim, wedding in only two weeks, are adding the final touches to their big day. Despite expecting news of Anita’s parents, declared missing since the 1999 Kosovo War, and with Bekim’s controlling family in turn, the couple seem to manage somehow with the preparations. But when Bekim’s secret gay ex-lover, Nol, returns from abroad unexpectedly, the situation becomes complicated, especially when Bekim realizes that Nol is still in love with him. Inevitably, the wedding banquet becomes loaded with tension when the unusual love triangle starts to unravel.
The following is our interview with Blerta Zeqiri about his film.
Cinema Without Borders: What motivated you to make the Marriage?
Blerta Zeqiri: The story started with a friend of mine who was married and had two children before she realized her husband was gay. Another very close friend, who was gay and couldn’t see himself marry just for show (an alibi) left the country, as he couldn’t bear the social pressure to conform. It didn’t seem right at all that people were not allowed to love, but it was totally OK to hate. And that was the starting point.
CWB: Discrimination of LGBT is a universal issue, an after Trump all progress in fighting it in US must start again, did you had all this in mind making the Marriage?
BZ: No, Trump wasn’t in the picture while making the Marriage, but now I think Trump has just cracked opened the surface and made America see beyond the cosmopolitan bubbles in the US coasts; see that discrimination of LGBT, as you say, is still a universal issue.
I saw the emancipation that happened in US and Western European cities as the way forward and the model, but still the exception. Homophobia was and is still present in most aspects of life and in some circles, it was left intact from external factors. Like for example in sports – I understand there are just a few you could count openly gay active athletes in major leagues around the world in one hand.
In Eastern Europe, the discrimination is spread even more. We don’t even have the cities where gays and other LGBT people can express their sexuality freely. Kosovo is more closed and conservative as a society. Or, at least, this is what we thought. Let me explain.
When we started thinking about the film, we were afraid there might be repercussions from the radical groups in our society. As, for example, with a panel discussion on sex organized by a magazine called Kosovo 2.0 a few years ago, when extremist groups stormed the public discussion venue and demolished the premises, followed by attacks on gay activists and their offices in the city.
After these attacks, the international organizations in Kosovo, together with our government mobilized to protect the LGBT rights more. So, since then, we had two gay parades without incidents and our film’s theatrical release garnered no negative attention or hate speech, becoming the most popular Kosovo release, beating US blockbusters in its opening week and was the most talked about film in our country for a while. So, before we released the film, we thought the people would be prejudiced toward our subject matter. We thought, they would be incensed there is a gay sex scene in it and so on. But what happened took us by surprise – it was us who turned out to be prejudiced toward our people, thinking all hell is going to break loose. There were occasions, we heard, almost in every screening of our film, throughout the five weeks it was showing in cinemas, that a handful of people left the theater during or right after the gay sex scene, but still, no one from the film crew received any hate mail.
CWB: You have an amazing an interesting way to reveal the secret love between Bekim & Nol, the fact that it is surprise for the audience finding it adds to the weight of why it has been kept as a secret. Please tell us about development of the story and characters of your film.
BZ: The plot came early, but the revelation of the secret and the fully formed characters developed through the writing process. The three leads were asked to improvise on the first couple drafts of the script, while we were weighing and feeling the moments of the revelation.
I fell in love with improvised scenes and what they could do to increase the realism in film, when I made my last short “The Return”. That was, I think, what enabled the short to talk to wide audiences all around the world. Since, we couldn’t replicate the short’s process (improvise all the dialogue), as it was impossible to get financial support without a pretty specific script, we wanted the actors to be a part of the character development process during script writing. This, would then help us create a cinéma vérité feel of the film that we wanted.
CWB: What has been the reaction of the audiences to the film in Kosovo?
BZ: As I said above, the audiences seemed to love the film. To our surprise, it sold out during the opening week, outselling Maze Runner and Den of Thieves at the cinema. What was the most interesting thing about the reaction was that the LGBT issue somehow moved to the background, with more people seeing it as a love story rather as an LGBT film.
CWB: Please tell us about casting of the Marriage
BZ: Because they had to be a part of the creative process, I needed my actors not only to be free of any prejudice toward Queer community, but also be talented, creative and fearless explorers of their inner selves. The pool was therefore very limited, so I was very happy that the ones I chose accepted the roles immediately and were in it with all their hearts, without a doubt or holding themselves back because of fear of any repercussions. We all wanted the same thing: to challenge society’s preconceptions.
The three main actors were very famous and lovable in Kosovo and I believe this helped the audience fall in love with them more easily. Another important fact to mention is that I didn’t limit myself to casting only professional actors. That is why I ended up choosing Genc Salihu for the role of the lover. Genc is a very famous Kosovar musician who was a judge in The Voice of Albania. It was his acting debut and I think he did amazing.
Adriana Matoshi was no different. She is the best actress we have in our country and took on the challenge very professionally.
CWB: How do you see the chances of the Marriage to receive a nomination or win an Oscar?
BZ: As if it’s not hard enough as is for a small film like ours, from what I hear, this year’s Foreign Language race is being hailed as promising the most impressive line-up in the recent past, which makes me believe our chances are very slim, even being among the 9 shortlisted films.