Credit: Dark Sky Films
Before We Vanish by Shar Tan Featured Film

I Love You More — Erblin Nushi

February 14, 2024

Written and directed by Erblin Nushi, I Love You More is a delicate film which explores the heartbreak of queer adolescence. The film centers on a young Kosovar teenager, Ben (Don Shala), who is trying to keep his relationship with his online boyfriend, Leo (Leonik Sahiti), a secret from his parents. In the midst of this turmoil, Ben’s mother, Nora (Irena Aliu), informs them that they have won the Green Card lottery, and will move to the United States in July. Unbeknownst to Nora, Leo is coming to Kosovo in August, and this immigration will complicate matters for the two boys. What ensues in the film’s narrative, however, is all too predictable for the queer bildungsroman; we witness Ben’s inevitable coming out, his father’s disapproval of him, and the disintegration of his forbidden affair with Leo. While I Love You More is a warm film with sincere intentions, there is really not much that pushes the edges of what we have already seen.

This is not to say that these stories — which queer teenagers face daily — are not worthy of portrayal, but that the desire for representational politics can do a disservice to the lived exigencies of reality. Ben’s character, for instance, is barely sketched beyond his anguish over his long-distance relationship with Leo, who is mostly hidden behind a computer screen. We never quite get the sense that these are two boys who like each other, as the film resorts to bluntly showing us their text messages instead — declarations of love are plenty, but they are ultimately not felt. While the one-sided nature of Ben and Leo’s affair could possibly mirror the all-consuming obsession that comes with first love, not much weight can be given to a relationship that is scarcely dealt with, even by the film itself. As such, when the two teenagers do eventually meet, the catharsis that we (and Ben) are supposed to feel tragically dissipates into the ether.

Perhaps what’s most striking about I Love You More is Nora and Ben’s relationship, which is tender and visceral, owing to Aliu’s earnest performance as a weary mother who loves her son unconditionally. The theme of incommunicability — which is too literal with Ben and Leo — manifests most tangibly when Nora tries unsuccessfully to make herself heard by both her husband and son; the former won’t accept Ben’s homosexuality, and the latter is too young and hurt to understand why immigrating might mean the world to his mother, who no longer wants to work out of a basement. It’s a shame, then, that I Love You More somewhat sidelines Nora in order to forcibly fashion itself into a singular queer coming-of-age story; the result is a formally impoverished narrative that feels needlessly derivative.

DIRECTOR: Erblin Nushi;  CAST: Luan Jaha, Shengyl Ismaili, Irene Aliu, Don Shala;  DISTRIBUTOR: Dark Star Pictures;  IN THEATERS: February 9;  RUNTIME: 1 hr. 33 min.