The Forgiveness of Blood This compelling drama, from director Joshua Marston (“Maria Full of Grace”), examines the costly fallout from a vendetta on a family of modern Albanians. When the patriarch kills a neighbor, the family members become, by ancient custom, prisoners in their own home. The nonprofessional cast is convincing, and Marston has a good eye for compositions. In Albanian with English subtitles. 109 minutes.
The Forgiveness of Blood becomes a kind of prison film, one where the bars and gates of incarceration are not made of steel, but of the customs and codes of an ancient tradition hamstrung by honor and pride. Nik, a typical teenage boy concerned with material things and girls, is forced into house arrest out of respect for the grieving family, while his younger sister, Rudina (Sindu Laçej), a practical and entrepreneurial spirit, is asked to take on a new role as breadwinner, driving the cart around town to sustain the family business. This sudden shift in gender roles is key to the film’s examination of ideological borders and how old-school traditions can shamelessly contradict each other. Interestingly, while Marston leans on coming-of-age tropes to develop Nik’s rebellious and reckless reaction to the feud, he develops Rudina’s struggle almost entirely out of silent reaction shots during times of duress. Her identity and gender struggle is far more internalized and subtle during these moments.
The film’s sobering outcome speaks to the fascinating ways technology, culture, and family can pull a modern teenager in three separate directions, making their decision-making process a confused and downright brutal battle between loyalty and comfort. The Forgiveness of Blood is one of few modern films to consider such a complex scenario without judgment or rhetoric, giving its many emotional reverberations an infinite quality that’s hard to shake.
Specifics of place are essential to the The Forgiveness of Blood’s visual design, and Criterion’s high-definition transfer illuminates the many small details that give the film such a lived-in feel. Nik’s family home, probably the most important setting in the film, is littered with cracks in the wall and gaps in the mortar, and we are privy to each one thanks to the 1080p image clarity. Exterior shots have a hazy look and nighttime exteriors are nicely shaded. Off-screen sound plays a big role in the film too, especially during the moments where Nik is eavesdropping on his elder family member’s conversation. The DTS soundtrack is nicely balanced and allows for the many competing audio sources to be heard clearly.
The breezy audio commentary by director Joshua Marston wavers between a history lesson about Albanian culture and tradition, specifically the role of blood feuds in the post-communist timeframe the film represents, and illuminating behind-the-scenes stories. Most interestingly, Marston discusses the challenges of making a film in Albania, which up until the last two decades was completely isolated under Soviet law.
Essentially a prison film where the bars are age-old customs and contradictory traditions, The Forgiveness of Blood imagines a modern Albania increasingly at odds with its cultural roots.