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Film Criticism by David O'Connell

The Forgiveness of Blood

August 28th 2012 04:54

Welcome to Albania: a place of barren plains, the humble toil of farmers.............…………..and blood feuds! Seven long years after earning strong international notices with his emphatic debut Maria Full of Grace (2004), young American director Joshua Marston gives us his follow-up, an equally impressive film about the nature and cost of noxious ancient traditions that turn back the clock, relegating a modern outpost to an era where taking an 'eye for an eye' is an edict naturally, and legally, adhered to.

When two locals, Zef and his brother Mark (Refet Abazi) - the father of Nik (Tristan Halilaj) - become embroiled in a dispute over passage through a neighbour’s land, violence ensues. The neighbour is killed; Nik’s uncle is taken into custody but his father flees. Accordingly, the relatives of the deceased man evoke the laws of the ‘Kanun’ on the family, meaning they must remain indoors out of respect for the departed; the pact they must make with historical perspective on the case is even more burdensome for 17 year old Nik and his younger brother who face death should they breach the boundaries of their home.

Marston’s The Forgiveness of Blood is not so much interested in filling the void with external activity or the creation of contrived tensions. Instead it’s the internalised struggle of Nik and his 15 year old sister Rudina (Sindi Lacej), in particular, that his attention becomes centred upon. Slowly the rhythms of easy domesticity are subverted as the walls close in, both figuratively and literally. Through silence, distortions in perspective through the eyes of townsfolk and the bittersweet temptations of Nik's potential girlfriend Bardha (Zana Hasaj) – viewed only in video messages he exchanges via his friend’s iphone - we understand the terrible psychological burden the siblings must carry like a stain on their soul.

To be shackled and held back from exploring the freedoms we take for granted is a terrible price to pay for somebody else’s error of judgment in the heat of the moment. When the frustration of Nik’s isolation manifests itself in an episode of destruction on his bedroom wall, we feel a heavy sense of empathy building in our own bones.

An imposing, unavoidable moral quandary opens up the third act to deeper scrutiny – a troubling equation that Nik has obviously been wrestling with for some time before it finds voice in his father’s provocative presence: should Mark turn himself in, thus freeing his sons from the sword poised over their heads? Or continue his retreat into darkness, thus saving himself but continuing to sanction the silent offensive against his family?

This is, undeniably, a second very impressive film from Marston. The skill he displays, along with Albanian co-writer Andamion Murataj, in building momentum from a series of interlocking, yet essentially static scenarios makes the effectiveness in creating mood and texture even more notable. Then there are the painfully stark contrasts to consider of 15th century laws being explicitly applied in a world in which Nik and his friends utilise the latest technology, including checking in to their Facebook accounts.

Marked by the strong performances of Halilaj and Lacej, this interior drama throbs with dread whilst acting as vociferous condemnation of these ancient traditional rites, clung to against all reason. The Forgiveness of Blood (2011) is compelling viewing with a sobering final scene that feels like a perfect, though hardly uncomplicated ending.

The Forgiveness of Blood is now out on DVD through Madman Entertainment.


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