Winner of the Silver Bear for Best Screenplay at the Berlin Film Festival, the powerful second feature from Joshua Marston (MARIA FULL OF GRACE) tells the story of an Albanian family caught up in a blood feud. Nik (Tristan Halilaj) is a carefree teenager in a small town with a crush on the school beauty and ambitions to start his own small internet business. His world is suddenly up-ended when his father becomes entangled in a dispute that leaves a fellow villager murdered. According to a centuries-old code of law known as the Kanun, Nik's family owes a life in return. Nik finds himself the prime target and becomes confined to home while his younger sister Rudina (Sindi Lacej) is forced to leave school and take over their father's business. Marston transports us into a world rarely seen on screen, where tradition and modernity clash putting young lives in the balance.
The Forgiveness of Blood is focused around an Albanian boy named Nik (Tristan Halilaj) and his sister Rudina (Sindi Lacej) whose family's livelihood has been impacted by another family's closure of a road that runs through their land. When Nik's father and uncle go to confront the patriarch of the other family, the man ends up dead, Nik's uncle ends up in jail and Nik's father goes into hiding. According to a set of Albanian laws called the Kanan, the murder may be avenged by the victim's family in the form of a blood feud which will not end until the victim's family decides to end it; usually with the death of all of the male members of the murderer's family. An archaic law, but law nonetheless, so Nik ends up in isolation in his home, while Rudina takes over the father's business of delivering bread to the village in a tiny, horse-drawn cart. Meanwhile, Nik's family feels that they can settle the matter through the use of a mediator, but the other family will only end the feud if Nik's father goes to prison. Nik, a prisoner in his own home and knowing that his father would be safer in custody than on the run, just wants his father to turn himself in so that they can all get on with their lives, but his father doesn't see things in quite the same light.
The Forgiveness of Blood was made by producer Paul Mezey and director Joshua Marston, the same team who brought Maria Full of Grace to the screen. Like they did with Maria Full of Grace, Mezey and Marston, both American, have managed to capture the essence and flavor of another culture and still tell a compelling story. The script was written by Marston and Albania native Andamion Murataj (who, no doubt, helped with the dialogue, which is all in Albanian), and is a fascinating example of how near-ancient laws are still applied to today's situations in certain cultures. Although it seems to be unbelievable that a blood feud could exist in the 21st century, it becomes clear that there are parallels between the thinking of the families involved in the murder and the mindset of street gangs; The Forgiveness of Blood is a tale of revenge, something that is all too real in the seedy eye-for-an-eye world that exists within any culture, it just seems more pensive from the point of view of the person in hiding. For the most part, Mezey and Marston do a pretty good job of telling a story that hasn't been told before.
The Forgiveness of Blood is really two stories that intertwine nicely. There is Nik's dilemma, as his father's oldest son, who must hide from the world, and there is Rudina's situation, having to take over for her father's job, being completely immersed in the work without really having the knowledge to succeed. Nik's segments are obviously more engaging, as his story is more pressing. Despite a few stretches of dragging, The Forgiveness of Blood is a fairly tense and anxious film, with both the characters and the audience knowing that Nik's life is at stake and that anything can happen at any time. Every time Nik sticks his head out of the door or walks past a window, the viewer half expects a shot to ring out and drop him to the floor. The situation breeds the suspense, and The Forgiveness of Blood becomes not only an introspective character study, but a nail-biting suspense movie.
Director of photography Rob Hardy (Blitz) does a great job of making The Forgiveness of Blood look like a foreign film. The film is taught and claustrophobic, using closed angles and tight shots to emphasize both Nik's feelings of entrapment and Rudina's sense of helplessness. It's shot in a very flat and softly focused style that has almost a documentary look, adding to the tension of the film. Hardy also uses framing to build suspense, often in a red-herring type of way. For example, in one scene, Nik stands, leaning on a counter with his back to a window, and Hardy frames the shot up so that the window draws the eye away from Nik. The audience anticipates a gunshot, intruder, anything to come through the window. It never happens, but Hardy has done his part to keep the viewer guessing. Hardy has helped to capture the despair of the family's situation while giving the audience something interesting to look at.
Like so many other great films, the strength in The Forgiveness of Blood lies in the less-is-more philosophy; the soundtrack is full of deafening silence, which just begs for something to happen. The anticipation of any noise keeps the viewer leaning forward; watching, listening and waiting for the bang to come. There is very little incidental music, and most of the scenes in the house are so eerily quiet that when there is something like a gunshot or barking dog, it is loud and shocking. Working in tandem with the cinematography and the tense storyline, the soundtrack does its part to put the audience on the edge of their seat.
February 24, 2012