Published Sep 06, 2011Albania is a country of three million people and 11, 000 square miles. It is part of the Balkan region of Europe, bordered by Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia and Greece. It doesn't produce a lot of movies.
The Forgiveness of Blood, from journalist turned filmmaker Joshua Marston, pulls back the curtain on Albania, offering a glimpse of a world than spans eras and epochs. It's one of tradition — of horse carts and blood feuds — and that traditional world is being dragged by its heels into the 21st century.
The film begins with a group of men sitting in a café trading jocular insults, yet hiding behind that jocularity is a land dispute, which leads to a fatal conflict, with one man dead and another in exile. From that moment on The Forgiveness of Blood is about the specifics of the Albanian cultural traditions, known as the kanun, in dealing with conflict resolution, and how a family copes with the absence of a patriarch.
The impact is greatest on eldest son Nik (Tristan Halilaj), who's caught in the grey zone of adolescence and adulthood, forbidden to leave his house while his father is in hiding, and eldest daughter Rudina (Sindi Lacej), a prodigious student who takes over the family's bread delivery service and resourcefully tries to sell bootleg cigarettes to supplement their income.
Martson's previous feature was Columbian drug mule saga Maria Full of Grace, which was as steeped in its culture as The Forgiveness of Blood. Martson, born and bred in Hollywood, is obviously an astute observer of cultures other than his own, and it's somewhat remarkable that he's able to traverse disparate worlds so effortlessly.
Yet the problem with The Forgiveness of Blood, or what prevents it from turning from a good film into a great film, is the kind of painterly directorial touches that make tales like these so successful. The Forgiveness of Blood may be reminiscent of the earthy work of filmmakers such as Emir Kusturica and Tony Gatlif, but because Martson is an interloper of sorts, it feels less authentic.
His storytelling follows a strict journalistic method, sticking to the facts, and while the story itself is compelling, the film is missing the little eccentric touches that mark the work of a true artist. (Mongrel Media)