The Forgiveness of Blood | Film reviews, news & interviews
The Forgiveness of Blood
Overcoming harsh traditions of the past proves difficult in contemporary Albania
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.
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
A touching transvestite romcom from François Ozon
A rediscovered German classic about a mother and child's wartime bond
Oscar champ stars Michael Keaton as a Hollywood Icarus braving Broadway heat
Style over substance in the supposed 'first Iranian vampire Western'
theartsdesk recommends the half-dozen top movies out now
Howard Hawks' airmen adventure re-released in a new restoration
Long-delayed comeback displays appetite for self-destruction
Stand-out performance from Steve Carell in potent Oscar-nominated psychological drama
Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart reflect on ageing, acting and everything
Sam Fuller's journeys to hell supersede his movie career in his daughter's documentary
Newcomer Sarah Gadon shines in film that is no royal flush
Frederick Wiseman's masterful portrait of an institution is made for piecemeal consumption