The Forgiveness of Blood (2011)
User ReviewsReview this title
As the film opens, an ancient horse-drawn cart plods its way along a narrow road surrounded by a broad expanse of open fields. On land previously owned by his grandfather, the driver Mark (Reft Abazi) and his teenage son Nik (Tristan Halilaj), a senior in high school, use the road to earn their living selling bread. Resentful and jealous, Sokol (Vetan Osmani), the current owner of the land, creates obstacles to the father and son accompanied by growing threats. The deep-seated antagonism rooted in years of jealousy and animosity is revealed at the local pub when insults are exchanged that stop short of violence. When Sokol closes the road, however, to Mark's cart and threatens him with a knife in the presence of his adolescent daughter Rudina ((Sindi Lacej), Mark returns with his brother (Luan Jaha) and Sokol is stabbed to death in a murder that takes place off-camera.
The brother is arrested and sent to jail for eighteen years, while Mark, accused of complicity in Sokol's murder, goes into hiding. One of the unwritten laws is the stricture that, in the case of blood feuds or other crimes between neighbors, an entire family must suffer the consequences of the crime even if only one member is guilty of the offense and that the family of the deceased can extract retribution by killing a male member of the guilty clan. The blood feud and the application of the Kanun law hits hardest on the two older children as well as young Dren. Rudina, who has dreams of going to university, is forced to leave school to take over father's business of delivering bread which she expands to include other items.
Nik, however, whose ambition includes wanting to open an Internet café, is chained to the home possibly for a long period of time, afraid to venture out for fear of retribution. The Forgiveness of Blood is not only a story about a conflict between past and present, but an exploration of the inner lives of people in a culture that we in the West are hardly even aware of. As in Marston's 2004 acclaimed Maria Full of Grace, his latest film is filled with a powerful authenticity racked with unnerving tension that tells a potent story of unfulfilled hopes and dreams. Immersing himself in the culture, Marston interviewed families living in isolation as mandated by the Kanun law, and shows events as they unfold without judgment or evaluation. With local first-time actors, Lacej and Halilaj giving nuanced and convincing performances, the result is a film of great humanity.
If you watch this because you want to see a film about blood feud you will be disappointed. Watch this as a film about generation gaps. Keep in mind while watching this that there where only a handful of cars in the country when the father of this boy grew up. And the boy has a mobile, computer and the whole world at his finger tips. Albania took a 100 year jump into modern time in just 10 years. The difference between the generations is therefore greater than in most other countries in the world.
I have lived in Albania and I'm married to a woman from Albania so this film really spoke to me. It is surprisingly well directed. It is hard to believe that the director does not speak a word in Albanian and managed to get such natural acting out of the cast and have such good insight into Albanian culture.
The film is very well filmed. The camera is primarily there to tell a story and support that story, not to make postcard pictures to admire. And it does that very well.
The style of the film reminded me of the films by the Dardenne brothers. Very realistic, low scale and natural. I do think it helps watching this film from that point of view. This is a character driven film, not plot driven.
Another surprisingly good film from the director of Maria Full of Grace (2004).
My concerns are basically assumed in one phrase: "the film is tight". It doesn't change camera lenses, it lacks wide shots of the village to add a spatial sense between scenes. It all happens in three buildings and few streets. All this can easily find a reason in budget limits, but I guess the film could be enriched visually with a little more effort.
Another limit was in the script. The film starts and ends without nobody explaining what is the kanun or besa. Foreign viewers would only guess what is going on, but also many Albanians don't know the rules. Leaving things unexplained makes the viewer nervous. Take a look to the review before mine. There is a long introduction to explain what the movie should have mostly told. This is not a good sign. A movie should speak for itself leaving little space to reviewers for their stories. We have to imagine that a wide public will see this film. And many may give bad ratings because they didn't read Wikipedia to prepare themselves for the movie. This part could have been fixed by adding short scenes of a child asking "Why do we have to stay closed, what is the kanun", "What is BESA, can we have some more of it (laughter)". An adult could have explained what the viewer needed to know. And this would be a real situation because a 5 years old child doesn't stay locked at home without asking why.
From what I see there is still some confusion about the concept of BESA. This is not a honor code to be proud, its part of the rules in the kanun (like today's laws). Simply speaking, it's an armistice. The family which have been damaged gives to the family that damaged them the right to get out of home without risking to be killed. Since this agreement was verbal, Albanians say they have a tradition in keeping promises. However, this is not a promise but a rule. If a family broke their promise there would be serious consequences from the kanun rules itself.
My last concern was the color black. I don't know for what reason the color black was a dark gray. Since the movie have a lot of dark scenes, this was quite noticeable. I thought the problem was the cinema, but then I remembered the trailer on youtube suffering of the same problem.
Despite my critiques, a big thanks is due to the producers and Marston, who spend time and effort to tell an Albanian story. I loved the part of his interview where he says that he tried to find a story that hasn't been seen before. Something interesting in a topic otherwise well known to the public (revenge and feuds).
While some things may seem ridiculous to people who live in the city, this stuff indeed happens. So while I am not sure if it actually based on something in particular, it is more than obvious, that in general this has happens. A very dark drama, with great natural performances, that elevate the movie clearly :o)
Nik, admirably portrayed by first time actor Tristan Halilaj, stars as the oldest son of a close knit family of six. He is a typical teenager who goes to school, wisecracks with his friends, and pursues his interest in girls.
His father, Mark, works a local bread route with an old horse and cart. However, one day an aggressive neighbor denies his father access to a shortcut across his land and threatens and intimidates him. The father returns with his brother Zef to "settle the score", and a fight breaks out whereby the neighbor is killed after he allegedly attacked the two brothers with a knife.
Zef is caught and sentenced to 18 years in jail, but the father goes into hiding. This sets up a "blood feud" between the two families. I thought it was fascinating to see how these feuds are handled by the people in that region. There is a certain code of conduct that must be maintained as set forth in the Kanun. Elders meet to determine the best course of action for the family.
Nik and his family are advised they need to stay in their home unless what they call a "besa" is issued, which is like a temporary pass to leave the house and not worry about any retaliations. Mediators will eventually try and work out a solution to the feud where both sides are satisfied.
But as the weeks pass and no solution is found, the strain on the family becomes intense. His sister Rudina, also wonderfully played by Sindi Lacej, tries to keep the bread route going to help them survive. However, the threats and attacks on their family get more and more intense.
It all spirals into a highly dramatic conclusion.
Overall, I found the film to be somewhat slow moving but for those who enjoy a foreign film which is superbly acted, written, and directed with an interesting solid story it should be quite engrossing and enjoyable.
It felt like a documentary and the acting was too subdued, although the actors were not experienced. Lots of yawning from a guy behind me suggested it wasn't capturing peoples imagination due to the snail's pace of each scene and conversation, hardly any incidental music - a very soporific 1 hour 50 mins.
It's also garnered loads of awards?
There is an amazing underlying subject being dramatized. The old customs is just harrowing. However the movie moves a bit slow and the power of the situation is dissipated. The other missed opportunity is the actual attack that starts the entire story. It seemed obvious that they needed to show it. The power of brutality itself is needed given the subject of the movie is a blood feud. It seems odd that we're missing that scene.
Dad is guilty and hiding, young Nik (Tristan Halilaj)is on house arrest, leading both a real and cinematic static life, to the extent that I looked at my watch, a gauche move allowable because I was the only patron in the house. While now and then Nnik ventures out of the house, most notably to see a girlfriend, most of the film is inside the house with nothing dramatic happening except a few bullet shots into the house and a fire.
Even with those moments, director Joshua Marston doesn't infuse the action with meaning or analysis. Quickly it's back to waiting until besha (some relief) comes from the aggrieved family. We do get a glimpse of Albanian life, but not enough daily living for culture hounds.
To add to the monotony, the shots are largely washed out either because our bulb was not strong or the digital apparatus didn't do what promised to be an interesting visual landscape. I will await the next Albanian film because Forgiveness of Blood holds promise of better stories to come.
Nik (Tristan Halilaj) is in his last year of high school and dreams of opening an internet/computer game café in his small town. His sister Rudina (Sindi Lacej) hopes to go on to university. Their dreams are dashed, however, when their father (Refet Abazi) kills a neighbour in a dispute over land. To avoid revenge attacks from the dead man's family, the males of the family are forced to stay inside their home at all times, a situation that could last for years while the community mediates the feud. With the father out of work, Rudina is forced to drop out of school, deliver a bread route, and buy contraband cigarettes to sell at a profit.
Marston and his co-writer are clearly interested in depicting the intersection of two worlds in Albania: mobile phones and cheap motorbikes alongside ancient laws that hold a man's honour sacred. What weakens the film, however, is that nowhere is it made clear that blood feuds are not a typical feature of contemporary Albanian life: while they briefly erupted in the early 1990s after the fall of Communism, and some families still live under them, it is very unusual for one to start today. Without mentioning that things have changed, this film misrepresents Albania and misleads Western viewers towards a Boratish caricature.
Note how other reviews here and elsewhere tend to commend the film more for "teaching them something about Albania" than for cinematography or acting. The camera-work is completely unimaginative, lacking any carefully composed tracking shots and depending far too often on a seasick shaky hand-held camera following a walking actor. While the acting isn't outright bad, the deficiencies in the script only make their amateur effort stand out. While life for the men in the family is tedious as they can't step out of the house, this point is already sufficiently made by halfway through the film, and yet the script goes on and on without anything more to say. The ending seems ad hoc and doesn't really follow from the body of the film.