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Forgiveness of Blood | Review

Blood Complicated

Joshua Marston, the director of the 2004 Oscar nominated Maria, Full of Grace finally returns with his next feature length narrative, 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.

Rating 3 stars

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Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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