Gerald Wright's Movie Coverage
FORGIVENESS OF BLOOD MOVIE REVIEW
Directed by: Joshua Marston
Running time: 109 min. shot with HDCAM SR
Release date: February 24, 2012
Genre: Drama In Albanian with English subtitles
Distributor: Sundance Selects/IFC Films
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Misery films have a social-realist agenda, the poor working-class milieu, and a contemporary setting. The genre stands in contradistinction to modern-day Middle East Cinema with its focus on military offensives and its collateral damage - to rural country settings along with social codes and traditions. In line with Albania's social code known as Kanun (English: The Canon of Leke Dukagjini), someone is socially obligated to kill another person to save the honor that was questioned by an earlier murder or moral humiliation. Writer/director Joshua Marston of the acclaimed HBO Films/Fine Line Features, Maria Full of Grace, created Forgiveness of Blood, a film focusing on this practice referred to as "Blood Feud".
In this powerful and richly textured feature, two Albanian families who have land boundary problems find themselves caught in a situation of murder. Nik (Tristan Halilaj), the oldest of four children in his home is a normal carefree teenage boy in a small town with a crush on his attractive school classmate Bardha (Zana Hasaj) and he has ambitions to start his own internet cafe after his graduation. His close in age but younger teenage sister Rudina (Sindi Laceij) is very thrifty and responsible. She helps her father and mother Drita (Ilire Vinca Celaj) with many chores in and out of the home including caring for the two younger siblings Boran and Dren (Esmeralda Gjonlulaj and Elsajed Tallalli). However, Nik's world is suddenly up-ended when his father Mark (Refet Abazi) and uncle Zef (Luan Jaha) become entangled in a land dispute that interferes with Mark's horse-drawn cart bread delivery business route and leaves a fellow villager Sokol (Veton Osmani) murdered. According to a centuries-old code of law, this entitles the dead man's family to take the life of a male from Nik's family as retribution. With his uncle in jail for the crime and his father in hiding, this leaves Nik as the prime target for retribution by Sokol's grieving family.
To understand why this practice is relevant in today's world is because since the collapse of communism in the modern-day government and lack of state control, there has been a revival of instances of "blood feud" in remote parts of northern Albania. The Albanian Helsinki Committee considers one reason for the pervasiveness of the blood feud to be the malfunction of the judicial structure.
As the first half of this film is a lively simplistic coming-of-age tale, it soon turns into a fast-pace relentless cruel story. It allows these not so famous and first-time Albanian actors to perform with realism, as Nik is voluntarily confined to his home while his younger sister Rudina is forced to leave school and take over their father's bread delivery business. Oddly enough, this so-call voluntary house arrest is approved by the local police department although they search for Mark. This does not meet with Nik's approval because he misses his girlfriend, classmates, parties and his freedom. Whereas, Rudina turns her negative into a positive by using her business savvy brains to incorporate her bread deliveries with the lucrative sale of black-market cigarettes.
The plot takes another turn in direction as it goes into the psyche of a bored, often selfish and scared teenage Nik. Tristan Halilaj's portrayal of Nik projects a sensibility so deeply disaffected that the faster pace is the only constant motion allowed him to outpace his demons. However, the story re-arranges its tempo when the action/violence is removed when Nik must come to terms with death threats on his family and question his father's hiding oppose to surrendering.
In a Q&A session with director Joshua Marston, and actors Tristan Halilaj and Sindi Lacej they explained "Blood Feud" is not an exclusive Albanian characteristic, but a historical one of the Balkans as a whole. Tristan and Sindi explained, "Albanian kids are attempting to change this old tradition of Blood Feud." Joshua Marston said, "the script was developed with input from cast (non-professional locals) along with the rehearsals." I told them that I found this to be highly productive when it came to raising the bar on its authenticity.
The only flaws I could find in this film was the fact that the viewer is left blind and ignorant on some of the terms, such as Kanun and Hakmarrja. It takes time involved in this film to get an idea of what these and other words and terms actual mean or represent. Otherwise, this film may be truly foreign in comprehension and not just in the understanding of a language. What is universal in this movie is the male protagonists. They are rebels either playing the system for all its worth, or rebelling against it. Yet, the alienation, disillusionment, and despondency are common elements for female leads which renders the women and girls as victims. It holds true in this movie where personal suffering has survived.
This is a significantly daring film!
FILM RATING (B)