Why Kosovo’s Gay Rights Film ‘The Marriage’ Shocked Its Own Director When It Was Released

TheWrap Oscar magazine: Director Blerta Zeqiri tells TheWrap she had to be cautious making a film about tolerance in an intolerant society — but she wasn’t expecting the reaction her film received

Blerta Zequiri The Marriage
Photo by Nart Zeqiraj

A version of this story about “The Marriage” first appeared in the Foreign Language Issue of TheWrap’s Oscar magazine.

“The Marriage,” the first feature from award-winning shorts director Blerta Zeqiri, is a love triangle of sorts between a couple who are about to be married and the groom-to-be’s gay lover, who returns to Kosovo and stirs up old but repressed feelings.

The film is Kosovo’s entry in this year’s Oscar foreign-language race, and this interview is one of a series of conversations TheWrap is having with the foreign directors.

When we spoke in 2013, you said that you and your husband were writing a film about gay rights in Kosovo. Is this that film?
BLERTA ZEQIRI Yeah, it took us this many years to write it because I wanted to do the film with improvisations, the way I work in my short films. But nobody would give us money to work like that.

So we had to do all the improvisation before. We took three and a half years to work on the script — we would write a first draft, which would not be good, and then bring the main actors in and do readings and improvisation for several days. We’d film those, and then go back home, see what we like and change the script. This was a long process for us.

Why did you want to make a film about this subject?
It didn’t feel right to me that people were not really allowed to love each other freely here in Kosovo. The story started with a friend of mine who was married and had two children and then realized that her husband was gay — and at the same time, I had a very close friend who was gay himself, and he came to the point where he was saying, “Either I have to get married and do what is expected of me, or I have to leave.”

For him, it was getting impossible to even get partners, because it was so normal for everybody to have this cover of being married. 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.

If it was difficult to be openly gay at the time you started making this movie, was it also hard to make the film?
We still didn’t have gay people that could live openly in Kosovo when we started to make this film, and there was an event, a magazine had a debate about it and then a party. And some religious extremists and hooligan football fans went into this venue and demolished it and beat up some people. So we had to be very cautious during the time we were making this film. We were kind of scared, almost.

We kept the subject matter a secret almost until the time we put the film in theaters. And I was really grateful to the actors. I think they were sacrificing a lot to do this in Kosovo, especially Genc Salihu. This is his acting debut, but he is a famous musician in Kosovo and Albania, and he was a judge of “The Voice” in Albania. And it was a big deal for him to be in a movie that maybe everybody will hate.

And what was the reaction when you did show it?
Something completely unexpected. We had all these plans about how to take care of ourselves if somebody threatened us, but then nothing happened. I still can’t understand it. The film was sold out the first two weeks, and people loved it. We didn’t receive any threats, nothing at all. We even had nice comments from people who were not supporters of gay rights.

Does that give you hope?
It definitely does. I started to think that maybe those movements that happened in society, where people are organized against something or for something, always have politics behind them. And it’s hard for people to get organized against people who love each other.

But to be honest, I’m confused, because we expected to have problems. [Laughs] Kosovo is a very interesting place, let’s say.

To read more of TheWrap’s Foreign Language Issue, click here.