THE FORGIVENESS OF BLOOD – The Review
American director Joshua Marston’s powerful debut MARIA FULL OF GRACE (2004) was about a teenage Mexican girl working as a drug mule who’s forced to come of age under difficult circumstances. After working in television for the past several years Marston has now returned to the big screen with THE FORGIVENESS OF BLOOD, another bleak story, this time about a young man who’s the victim of a barbaric ancient culture that exists in modern Albania. Like his first film, it’s grim and suspenseful; more evidence of a director skilled at telling an urgent, intense story that keeps you locked to the screen. FORGIVENESS OF BLOOD is a well-made if difficult tale of old customs and older conflicts and much credit should be given director Marston. I’m sure after the success of the Oscar-nominated MARIA FULL OF GRACE, he could have gone the mainstream Hollywood route, but he chose instead something ethnic and challenging, a powerful look at Albanian culture. FORGIVENESS OF BLOOD is slow-paced and not for everyone but has a strong premise and is recommended to those who dig stately, heavy drama.
Working from a script co-written by Andamion Murataj and cast with nonpro natives, THE FORGIVENESS OF BLOOD tells the story of two families caught up in a vicious blood feud. It’s told mostly through the eyes of Nik (Halilaj), a girl-crazy Albanian teen with dreams of opening his own Internet cafe. The story begins when his father, a bread cart driver, and uncle stab a hot-headed neighbor from an opposing family over an argument about where their horse-drawn wagon travels. Due to an Albanian code called the Kanun that dictates that a member of the family guilty of murder must himself be killed or jailed, Halilaj and his relatives are confined to their home, a safe base, indefinitely lest they risk the violent revenge that may be coming their way anyway. Time wasted in this house arrest is too much for the restless Nik, who’s infatuated with a girl at school, and he begins sneaking out, putting him at risk from armed relatives of the dead man. Tormented by the likelihood of years of this confinement because of a war that wasn’t of his making, Nik lashes out at his father who he blames. The older man starts to see his son as treacherous and the situation becomes increasingly tense.
Marston lets the story unfold with a slow, deliberate simplicity. Though the actual violence takes place off screen and the the dialogue is a bit dry, it’s impossible to sit through THE FORGIVENESS OF BLOOD and not be affected by the circumstances of the characters. Scenes of negotiations between stubborn members of the two warring families give the film a realistic look at a particular place and its impractical centuries-old customs. FORGIVENESS OF BLOOD is an interesting film on a subject that really exists, but the lack of narrative momentum and static camerawork may put off some viewers who may feel as trapped as Nik. Marston employs a documentary-style technique that immerses the viewer in a society of people too primitive to crack the 21st century no matter how much they embrace it. In one scene a friend stops by the house and shows Nik a video of his would-be girlfriend on a cellphone. As he watches, he sadly realizes that, unlike the culture he’s trapped in, she has moved on.
3 1/2 of 5 Stars
THE FORGIVENESS OF BLOOD opens in St. Louis today at Landmark’s Tivoli Theater