Dir. Joshua Marston, USA/ Albania/ Denmark/ Italy, 2011, 109 mins, in Albanian with English subtitles
Cast: Refet Abazi, Tristan Halilaj, Sindi Lacej
Review by Delme Stephenson
Joshua Marston has directed and co-written a subtly sublime disintegration of a family affected by a blood feud in The Forgiveness of Blood. Although it hasn’t had the same recognition as Marston’s first feature Maria Full of Grace, his Albanian based drama is an artful and meditative coming-of-age tale that packs an emotional punch.
The film primarily focuses on Nik (Tristan Halilaj), a popular teenage high school student in a small Albanian town. Nik has fallen for a beautiful girl at school and has realistic ambitions of starting an internet café. All of this is taken away from him when his father Mark (Refet Abazi) and a relative get into an argument with a neighbour regarding a longstanding land despite. When the neighbour is killed, Mark goes into hiding and Nik’s uncle is arrested by the police. The centuries old law of the blood feud, based on an Albanian edict named the Kanun is placed upon Nik and his remaining family.
As retribution, the code entitles the dead man’s family to take the life of a male from Nik’s family – in essence meaning that he is the prime target of any attacks. As such Nik is forced to stay at home until the problem is resolved by mediators. This law of the blood feud also dictates that only the women of the family are allowed to leave the house. Rudina (Sindi Lacej), the oldest girl of the family and a top-level student has to take over her father’s bread delivery service and make the most of a bad situation. Meanwhile Nik, who is housebound and in fear of his life becomes increasingly frustrated as he is unable to live the life he was once accustomed to.
Joshua Marston tries to present a film that is truthful to a particular situation in Albania. Minimal lighting is used and the film utilises its lush green scenery. It’s a near-silent film at times, and there are many ambiguous moments that happen both on and off the screen. Similar to Halilaj’s character Nik, Marston wants us to experience what it may feel like to be held captive.
Marston has assembled a fine cast of non-professional Albanian actors to elucidate a little known part of the world. The performances of Tristan Halilaj and Sindi Lacej in particular highlight the plight of teenagers caught in an archaic honour system that they fail to understand, especially as the world around them becomes increasingly borderless through technological innovation.
While The Forgiveness of Blood doesn’t appear to have the energy of Marston’s first feature film, it is another coming-of-age story that is expertly restrained, broody and tense.