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Back in the 15th.Century, a certain prince Leke Dukagjini gathered together a collection of Albanian traditional customs and cultural practices that came to be known as "The Kanun of Leke Dukagjini." This collection was passed down by word of mouth from one generation to the next, and has governed the way Albanians have behaved pretty much ever since. Book Ten section three of the "Kanun of Leke" as it was commonly referred to, deals specifically with the rules in regard to a dispute between one neighbour and another. It states that, should a quarrel between two neighbours, for whatever reason, escalate and turn violent then the victim can invoke the age-old ritual of the blood feud, which states that the victim has the right to kill all males in the perpetrator's family. However, in a somewhat surprising twist, there is also a tradition throughout Albania known as "Besa." Roughly translated, "Besa" means, "to keep the promise" or "word of honour." There's a saying in Albania that says: "Albanians would die rather than break Besa." So while the men remain in their home, and at the discretion of the victim and his family, they will not be killed for the first twenty-four hours the blood feud has been preordained. Joshua Marston's latest film, "The Forgiveness of Blood" is set in modern day Albania and tells the story of two families caught up in a blood feud. Every day the father and daughter set off in their horse and cart to deliver the bread to the people and café owners in the nearby village. Obviously, they quicker they can deliver the bread the more quickly they get paid. To this end, the father uses a neighbour's land as a short cut. The neighbour resents this and has already placed large stones to deter the father trespassing on his land. The father just removes the stones and goes on his way. The very next day the father finds his access completely blocked, with the neighbour standing there waiting to see what will happen. They get into an argument, but the neighbour refuses to budge. Eventually, the father has to take the long way around. Director Joshua Marston's previous film, "Maria Full of Grace" focused on the risks of becoming a drug mule, and the consequences of putting one's life at on the line, quite literally, by swallowing pellets of cocaine for a quick $5000 once the drugs are smuggled into New York. What made this film stand out above the usual kind of film dealing with the drug scene, is that it showed what the consequences of such reckless behaviour can lead to, even though Maria's decision to become a drug mule was borne out of desperation. Similarly, "The Forgiveness of Blood" is not just a film about a blood feud. It's a film about the far bigger issue of the how the average Albanian is forever trying to escape his violent and troubled past, first under the Ottoman Empire, and then under the Communist dictatorship of Enver Hoxha. Like most despots, Enver Hoxha simply eliminated dissent, by imprisoning thousands in forced-labour camps or executing them for crimes such as alleged treachery or for disrupting the proletarian dictatorship. In fact, for the only time in its centuries old history, did the practice of blood feuds cease - brutally stamped out by Enver Hoxha's Secret Police. The Communists were finally voted out of power in 1990. Two years later in 1992, Albania became a Republic. It wasn't long before Albanians woke up to the realisation that the new government was no different from the old government. Gradually the settling of scores by blood feud began to flourish once more, even as the future for Albanians seemed bleak to the point of despair. As the film unfolds, it's hard not to believe that one is actually watching a documentary. This can in no small way be attributed to the fact that the director chose to use a cast non-professional actors, especially Sindi Lacej as the daughter, Refet Abazi as the father, and Veton Osmani as the hot-headed neighbour indeed, all the 'actors' in this remarkable film, do an outstanding job, and help shine a light on a country that is many ways, will forever be stuck back in the Dark Ages. P.S. Should you want to find out more about the history of this country? Check out a book by Robert Carver called: "The Accursed Mountains." It is a really fascinating look into this most enigmatic of countries.
This powerful film immerses us in an ancient culture that continues to exist in modern times. Even as the inhabitants of the Albanian village enjoy television and the young use their cell phones to communicate, freshly-baked loaves of bread are delivered by horse-drawn cart. Without the glimpses of modern technology, we would think we were watching a drama from the 19th Century because of the nature of the feuding (stones placed on a dirt road to block passage) and the very clear, iron-clad rules from the Kanun for resolving the fallout from the feud that escalates to violence The film illuminates the powerful strictures under which the two feuding families live. Honor and respect may seem to us strange concepts to employ, following what we would consider a felonious crime and a matter for the police and a governmental system of justice, but the Kanun lays out the terms under which those who are deemed to have harmed another must isolate themselves and their families. Tradition provides a pathway to settling the feud, but there is no timetable for ending the state of being a pariah. It is the entire family who is societally harmed when the father takes a feud to its ultimate level.
The movie is somehow good but I had some concerns. The good part is
that the movie create a full story, the scenes are mostly connected and
the viewer can follow. Second, the actors are not famous Albanian
actors, which makes the film more realistic. Third, local dialect was
used, adding still some realism (many Albanian movies create surreal
literal scripts with little connection to everyday life). Let's come to
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).
Belgian playwright and poet Maurice Maeterlinck said, "At every
crossroads on the path that leads to the future, tradition has placed
10,000 men to guard the past." As demonstrated in Joshua Marston's
second feature, The Forgiveness of Blood, customs, traditions, dogmas,
and deeply embedded ways of thinking that were once pertinent can
become irrelevant and even damaging with the passing of time. An
example is the Albanian Kanun law, an uncodified collection of customs
and rules perpetuated by word of mouth since the fifteenth century.
Incongruously existing side by side with high-definition TV, Facebook,
cell phones, and texting, these traditions are anathema to the lives of
many young Albanians.
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.
An Albanian family is torn apart by a murder, resulting in a blood
feud. This is a very good film about a generation gap in Albania. The
grownups live in the old world, according to the old laws of the land
(well the laws of North Albania, since blood feuds are mostly found
there). The younger generation does not see any point to the tradition
and unlike the grown ups sees other ways of solving problems.
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).
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Joshua Marston, who brought to the screen the terrific film "Maria Full
of Grace", directed and co-wrote this script along with Andamion
Murataj. I found this movie to be a powerful human drama, set in the
northern regions of Albania.
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 is really very old school and very subtle. Still the sentiment is
very strong and the acting is more than solid. Though some may call it
slow and think it is nothing more than a documentary. Though that is
not a bad thing in my book, you have to decide how you feel about it.
It's family driven plot has values to offer.
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)
Joshua Marston, best known as the director of drug mule story MARIA
FULL OF GRACE, gives us here a poignant depiction of blood feuds in
northern Albania Albania. The script was written in collaboration with
Andamion Murataj and the actors are all Albanians, some of them
amateurs, speaking the authentic Gheg dialect of their region.
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.
This is a small Albanian movie about a blood feud in a small Albanian
town. Rudina and Nik are normal kids in a relatively poor family. Their
father earn a living delivering bread in the neighborhood. Access to a
disputed road causes problems with the neighbor. When the father and a
uncle kill that neighbor, only the uncle is caught. The neighbor's
powerful family seeks retribution or blood feud. Age old customs causes
more and more problems for the young kids who remain.
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Despite the screenplay awards from Berlin and Chicago about a blood
feud between families, The Forgiveness of Blood serves only 109 minutes
of mostly boredom. The Albanian Kunan code demands that with a murder,
a member of the wrongful family must be killed or jailed.
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.
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