Film: The Forgiveness of Blood (2011)
Cast includes: Refet Abazi, Tristan Halilaj, Sindi Lacej, Ilire Vinca Celaj
Director: Joshua Marston (Maria Full of Grace)
Genre: Drama, Albanian with subtitles (109 minutes)
Northern Albania is a picturesque region caught between the old world and the new. Bread deliveries are made daily by primitive horse-drawn carts, while cell phones have become a necessity of life for teenagers. On his bread delivery route, the shortcut Mark takes across Sokol's land was negotiated decades ago by Mark's grandfather. Now Sokol wants to block the right of way. When Mark's teenaged son Nik helps out, they move the rocks and go through. At the local café, the men from Sokol's family sit across from Mark, Nik and Uncle Zev. The friendly jousting about the rocks has a decidedly nasty edge. Mark tells a customer, "With all due respect, Sokol is an idiot." "You're both idiots," she replies. How long will this idiotic feud go on?
The next day, the right of way is so thoroughly blocked that moving the rocks isn't possible. "You don't have the balls to do anything," Sokol's son throws out a dare. When Mark and Uncle Zev go over to settle this with Sokol, things gets out of hand and Sokol's son is stabbed and dies. Uncle Zev is arrested, but that's not the end of it. What started as a stupid disagreement has now turned into a blood feud. It's no longer a disagreement between adult men. It's now between families. This whole time, we've also been watching Mark's family... a wife and 4 school-aged children. Nik first learns of the incident when men come to snatch him away from an outing with his best friend. They take him home... where he and the rest of the family are to be imprisoned... indefinitely. At this point we, along with the family, start learning the intimate and terrible implications of being in a blood feud.
In this society, stuck between ancient and modern customs, blood feuds don't fall into the jurisdiction of the official legal system. There are official rules, to be sure. But those rules are codified in the Kanun (ka-NOON), an arcane and ancient oral tradition. The police just look the other way, even when laws are broken between members of feuding families. And while many family members are totally innocent, the rules of the Kanun apply to all of them... no matter how convoluted the rules seem.
The Forgiveness of Blood gives us a rare look at a custom that seems unimaginable to most Americans. The filmmakers chose not to spend time explaining things they hoped we'd figure out along the way. They may have overestimated our ability to wrap our heads around the concept of an Albanian blood feud. Those who have already read about them will have an advantage in understanding what's happening. The film is very well done in terms of production, acting and story. You can't take issue with the film itself. Our ability to grasp what it all means, however, may require some background knowledge.
2 popped kernels (Scale: 0-4)
Blood feuds, Albanian style... interesting and well done but not easy to wrap our heads around.
Distribution: Art house
Tempo: In no hurry
Visual Style: Unvarnished realism
Character Development: Engaging
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Informative & thought provoking
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