Winner of the Silver Bear for Best Screenplay at the Berlin Film Festival, the second feature film from filmmaker Joshua Marston (Maria Full of Grace) is a quiet, mature and beautifully shot coming-of-age tale that explores family honor and the intersection between modernity and tradition. Set in Albania, the film follows two teenagers, Nik (Tristan Halilaj) and his sister Rudina (Sindi Lacej), as they deal with the accusation that their father and uncle have murdered a fellow villager. The uncle is immediately arrested, but their father escapes, leaving the family to observe a centuries-old code of law wherein Nik becomes a target of retribution.
According to the 15th century legal code, Kanun, the killing of a male member of a family may be avenged with the killing of a male of the murderer’s family. The only form of immunity from this rule is never leaving home. This leaves Nik no choice but to miss school and become a housebound prisoner. He builds walls to provide more safety and creates a makeshift weight set to keep entertained. What’s perhaps most painful is he misses his friends and seeing his school crush. In the meantime, his younger sister is forced to take over the family business of delivering bread by horse buggy to keep the family financially afloat. Very quickly, she needs to learn to become a shrewd business woman. The stress builds as time ticks away and the victim’s family refuses to relent with Nik’s father still on the run.
Throughout The Forgiveness of Blood, the divide between the traditional and the modern is ever-present. It’s shown in the contrast between a younger generation that use cell phones, computers and yearn for more and an older generation that holds on tightly to long-established customs and practices. This contrast is even apparent in the faces of Marston’s cast—the smooth, baby faces of the young versus the deeply etched lines of the elders’.
Marston and co-writer Andamion Murataj completely immersed themselves in the culture before shooting, doing extensive research on blood feuds. Marston worked with first-time actors and shot in muted colors in a small village in Albania, lending the film an unusual feeling of authenticity. Whether in covering the lush Albanian landscape or the rugged confines of a house, the cinematography is understated but accomplished, beautifully advancing the rising tension and feeling of claustrophobia as the plot develops. Similarly, the writing allows events and scenes time to breathe and unfold organically. Nothing feels particularly forced or schematic.
For all its seeming simplicity, The Forgivessness of Blood proves a complicated and nuanced film—quite an accomplishment for a filmmaker in only his second feature effort.
Director: Joshua Marston
Writer: Joshua Marston and Andamion Murataj
Starring: Tristan Halilaj, Sindi Lacej, Refet Abazi, Ilire Vinca Celaj, Cun Lajci
Release Date: Feb. 24, 2012