wed 27/08/2014

The Forgiveness of Blood | Film reviews, news & interviews

The Forgiveness of Blood

Overcoming harsh traditions of the past proves difficult in contemporary Albania

A teenager locked up at home - for blood feud reasons: Albania's Tristan Halilaj as hero Nik

Blood feuds and mobile phones are not something you expect to find in the same film narrative. But they are both part of the landscape of American director Joshua (Maria Full of Grace) Marston’s Albanian-language The Forgiveness of Blood, which shows that while a small Balkan nation has caught up with the modern world in some technological respects, age-old traditions of clan revenge survive. Murder must be avenged with murder, making for generations-long disputes.

The kind of simmering disputes between neighbours that end in bloodshed were a part of William Faulkner’s American South. In the Albanian context we know the world best from the historical novels of the country’s greatest writer Ismail Kadare. In The Forgiveness of Blood they erupt in a small Albanian town, where hero Nik (Tristan Halilaj), a beguiling 17-year-old, is about to end school, and has plans for small business activity in the form of an internet café. He’s popular, and tentatively courting a local girl. His sister Rudina (Sindi Lacej) has plans to go further, to university.

Murder must be revenged with murder, making for generations-long disputes

Their wider family dynamic seems stable, with younger siblings, and extended family close-by. The clan is led by the father, Mark (Refet Abazi), who earns a living delivering bread in a horse-drawn wagon through a beautiful landscape (sunnily caught by cinematographer Rob Hardy), and passed by ageing Mercedes: age-old elements of the culture co-exist alongside contemporary ones. Judging by the slow process of a roof extension going up on their house, the family seems to be doing at least OK.

Until the issue of roads erupts. Specifically a short-cut used by Mark on his delivery rounds, across land that was once in his family, before the Communist Enver Hoxha regime (the only one in which secret police pressure virtually closed down the blood feud issue) assigned it to a neighbour; the latter seems to be spoiling for a fight on the issue by closing access, first with stones, then with more substantial blockades.

It leads, to no surprise, to a stand-off ending in murder. Nik’s uncle is jailed for 18 years - the local police do have a presence, almost powerless though they are against local traditions - while his father goes into hiding. That brings the codes of a Middle Ages canon, the Kanum, into play: until vengeance is achieved, or until Mark is imprisoned, Nik as an almost adult male is confined to his home. That claustrophobia is emphasised by the contrast with the light outside: his main recourse is weightlifting and fitness training on the protected roof to pass the time. The soundtrack is equally sensitive to his depressive mood.

Halilaj’s performance in the role, initially feckless, charming, and finally existentially isolated and an exile, carries the film

rating

4

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