Joshua Marston, the director of the 2004 Oscar nominated Maria Full of Grace finally returns with his next feature length narrative, the Silver Berlin Bear for Best Screenplay winning (2011 Berlin International Film Festival) The Forgiveness of Blood, a blood feud tale set in modern day Albania. The Los Angeles native once again proves he has considerable talents for focusing on subjects not often depicted by American filmmakers, with tense, enthralling narratives. With this latest feature, Marston sets his sights on a country not often documented in the annals of cinema.
The film opens with a brief characterization of main protagonists Nik (Tristan Halilaj) and his sister, Rudina (Sindi Lacej). Both are currently students, and Nik is close to graduating from high school, discussing plans to open an internet café, and courting a female peer in his class. However, the film succumbs to its predicament rather quickly. Two patriarchs are sparring over the use of land that’s been in Nik’s family for several generations. Nik’s father, Mark (Refet Abazi) insists on using the land for transporting his horse drawn bread cart, but Sokol (Veton Osmani) has decided that since he has inherited the land, it will be private, causing signignificant hardship to Mark’s meager bread selling business. After several heated exchanges, Mark and his brother stab Sokol to death. While the uncle is arrested, Mark flees into hiding. Due to a centuries old legal code called the Kanun, Sokol’s family now has the right to pursue blood vengeance on Mark’s family by claiming the life of the one the male family members. Since Nik’s father has fled, he becomes the main target, forcing him into indefinite house arrest. Meanwhile, his sister Rudina must dtrop out of school to carry on her father’s work selling bread. But as time passes and a mediation has not been met, Nik becomes more and more desperate to escape his captivity.
While it’s no surprise that archaic traditions exist in every country, First World or not, what makes The Forgiveness of Blood more compelling than similarly themed films from other parts of the world are the finely drawn characters, namely Nik and Rudina. As teenagers engaged in a world that can afford them access to modern world technology, their situation, born of arcane old world traditions, throws their lives into a tailspin. Since women aren’t to be targeted, according to the Kanun, it’s up to Rudina to support her family (which is reminiscent of the nuclear cannibal family horror film from Mexico, We Are What We Are, 2010), creating a strained, gender biased tension between the siblings. Told from their point of view, its curious to see that they all seem to recognize that their elders are behaving like violent, ignorant children, but since they’re not in control, their own lives are at stake. In this country, the sons do bear the sins of the father. More of a character study than a cautionary or moral tale, The Forgiveness of Blood doesn’t have the intense drama or emotion of Maria Full of Grace, but it’s a noteworthy effort from Marston.
Featuring a new high-definition digital transfer, approved by DOP Rob Hardy, and a 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, the film looks and sounds amazing in this beautifully packaged presentation. The special features are a bit run of the mill, with the biggest highlight being a behind the scenes featurette of the making of the film, “Truth on the Ground.” Additionally, there’s a 2012 filmed interview with Marston questioning three of his film’s main actors about their experiences making the film, as well as audition and rehearsal footage, and the original trailer.
Truth on the Ground
Producer Paul Mezey leads this behind the scenes featurette, discussing how he works with Marston, namely by asking a series of questions once deciding on a situation. Marston, as well as actors Refet Abazi, Tristan Halilaj, and Sindi Lacej also appear, sharing tidbits on the extensive casting process. Mezey seems especially enamored with their experiences filming Northern Albania, a place where modernization was taking place daily as they filmed, a process that was timely for their own narrative, which they felt extremely thankful to catch on film.
Acting Close to Home
Marston interviews Abazi, Halilaj and Lacej about their experiences with the film, how they came to audition, how they felt about the finished product, and, their personal experiences and knowledge of blood feuds. The two adolescent actors, Halilaj and Lacej, already appear to have aged since filming, and they seem very excited to talk about the importance of the film. Abazi cites how the media in Albania will continually reference this film in relation to any feud news, convinced that the film itself has already generated change for Albania.
The auditions of Lacej and Halilaj are included, where they basically talk about their life experiences after being asked a few questions. Lacej seems extremely animated, and after some improvised audition scenarios between the two actors, it’s apparent why they were cast. Directors Marston is shown in two rehearsal scenes, coaching the actors and showing us a couple takes before playing a clip of the finally realized scenes.
The original trailer for the film already had a lot of noteworthy critical praise sprinkled throughout, the film marketed as an engrossing, suspenseful drama from the director of Maria, Full of Grace.
Each year, Criterion selects a handful of new titles to add to its collection, and The Forgiveness of Blood is a welcome addition to the eclectic mix. It’s off the map titles like this that have a high chance of being lost in the shuffle of time, and, like an animal in danger of extinction, Marston’s film has been cemented with the coveted Criterion C. While the special features aren’t particularly magnificent, this is hardly a surprise. The film was finally released in theaters in early 2012, so the tests of time haven’t granted it a catalogue of cultural baggage yet. For now, these are the best we can get. Most importantly, this film has been lovingly packaged for a great high definition transfer, so if you missed this in theaters, this is truly the next best thing.