There’s a wonderful new film about the near-insurmountable hurdles facing a charismatic young couple that just wants to escape a repressive regime and live out their modest dreams. It’s Bahman Gobadi’s No One Knows About Persian Cats, and if you haven’t seen it yet, you need to find it on VOD or add it to your Netflix queue.
Honeymoons really, really wants to be that movie too. But instead, it’s the cinematic equivalent of a Theodore Dreiser novel, a social-justice story with its heart planted firmly in the right place but its author’s heavy hand too much in evidence. The interactions too often feel contrived, the dialogue is clumsily expository, and the camera keeps pushing into people’s faces to focus on welling tears or thousand-yard stares of despair.
The honeymoons of the ironic title are those of two young couples, one from a small town in Albania and the other from Belgrade. In typically literal-minded fashion, the screenplay underscores the similarities between these young innocents from warring cultures by sending each to a lavish family wedding before they try to escape to Western Europe.
By the time they head out, you understand why they need to leave a place where murderous enmities divide people even within families, corruption runs rampant (even a bus driver expects a bribe), and nothing quite works the way it’s supposed to. So we root for these four underdeveloped but clearly sensitive and sympathetic young people—mournful Maylinda, gallant young Nick, musician Marko, and bravely smiling Vera—to get to a better place, even as we know that vicious thugs, cruel cops, opportunistic fellow refugees, and deterministic filmmakers will get between them and their freedom.
It feels obnoxiously privileged to mock a movie haunted by the ghosts of so many real people. But while those tormented souls might appreciate director Goran Paskaljevic’s well-meaning attention, they deserve a better story.
The Human Rights Watch Film Festival runs from June 10—24.
This article was originally published on The House Next Door.