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TIRANA (Reuters Life!) - They may be divided by geography and politics, but Serbs and Albanians share the same sour fate on screen when they go abroad in a first film collaboration between filmmakers of the two nations.
"Honeymoon," made by acclaimed Serbian film director Goran Paskaljevic alongside the Albanian writing and producing team of Genc Permeti and Ilir Butka, follows the journeys of two young couples -- one from each country -- whose dreams of seeking success in Europe end in parallel lines of disillusion.
The 61-year-old Paskaljevic said the idea for the film came to him after he began visiting Albania two years ago. It was then he realized that Serbs and Albanians were very similar, despite the divisive nationalism fueled by politicians.
"We are Balkaners, we share a similar mentality but we do not know each other. I sincerely believe that if we knew each other we would understand each other better," Paskaljevic said.
Albania and Serbia are at odds over the future of Kosovo, a former province of Serbia with a 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority that declared its independence in February.
Belgrade considers Kosovo to be the cradle of its history and fiercely opposes independence. The 100,000 or so Serbs still living in Kosovo oppose the secession with the backing of Moscow and Belgrade. In 1999, Serbian troops accused of carrying out a campaign of killing, torture and destruction against ethnic Albanians were expelled from Kosovo by a NATO air war.
"My strong feeling is that we have to collaborate. In culture it is maybe easier to open the door, as in the case of 'Honeymoon'. It is a symbolic title that goes very well with the story of the film also," Paskaljevic told Reuters this week.
Scriptwriter Permeti said he was drawn to Paskaljevic's work after he saw the 2004 movie "Midwinter's Night Dream" and was impressed by "his courage to speak with political metaphors."
"Our film is a bold initiative that breaks the barriers that nations have created over the centuries. It is also a simple tale of everyday life of people grappling with fresh wounds after the old ones are cured," Permeti said.
Newly wedded Vera and Marko leave Serbia by train to go to Hungary, but Marko's name shows up on a computer as a war criminal and he is detained. Majlinda and Niku leave Albania for Italy, but Niku is also held on suspicion his papers are fake.
Both are later released.
"Finally when they come to Europe, the El Dorado, they start to understand that it is not the El Dorado for them. And Albanians and Serbs are treated somehow as citizens of the second rank. Basically that's the story," Paskaljevic said.
An outspoken opponent of late Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic, Paskaljevic believes Milosevic's nationalism throughout the 1990s pushed Serbia and the Balkans toward a dead end, but now there were grounds for optimism.
His 1998 film "Powder Keg," or "Cabaret Balkan," prompted questions from critics about why there was no hope.
"When I made 'Cabaret Balkan', Milosevic was in power and at that time I did not see hope. Today I see hope, and the hope is already in the fact that we collaborate together," he said.
"Here, I did not have any problems; my crew was very cautious in the beginning, but now they love Tirana," he added.
Earlier shot in Serbia, "Honeymoon" stars both Serbian and Albanian actors, even first-timers, and cost 1.5 million euros ($1.95 million), funded by Albania's Film Center and Serbia's Ministry of Culture.
"This is a beautiful adventure. Culture in smart countries always opens the door for the diplomacy and economy," Paskaljevic said.
Editing by Paul Casciato