A very curious second film for Joshua Marston after his Oscar-nominated 'Maria Full of Grace', a fully Albanian-language film set in that very culturally specific country with no allusions to an American viewpoint. Marston’s desire to tell a non-American story in a different language is wholly admirable, but the slowburn pacing and staid emotional tone prevents the film from becoming the sad ironic tragedy it desires to be.
The Forgiveness of Blood (2011) dir. Joshua Marston
Starring: Tristan Halilaj, Refet Abazi, Sindi Lacej, Ilire Vinca Celaj
By Alan Bacchus
Nik (Halilaj) is an Albanian teenager connected to his friends by his cell phone like any of us in North American would be. But he also rides unpaved roads on a cart pulled by a horse, a mixture of old and new which fuels the conflicts in Marston's morally confounding picture. Early on we see Nik having lunch at a pub with his family where he witnesses a verbal standoff with a rival group from his extended family. The tension in the room is thick, suggesting a long-standing intra-family feud.
Another confrontation with Nik’s sister triggers a domino effect of events culminating in the death of one of the other family members. By the cultural rules dating back to the Middle Ages, as a member of the extended family Nik is in this war too and could be a target for retaliation. Thus, he and his sister are forced to sequester themselves in their home in what amounts to a voluntary domestic imprisonment, which, judging the history of these confrontations, could mean years.
Marston finds his conflict not between the two warring groups but within Nik's own family unit, specifically his stubborn uncle who represents the bullish adherence to the outmoded cultural ways of life, which are obsolete in the technologically interconnected world in which Nik wants to live.
As an American, Marston’s reverence to the Albanian culture is admirable and makes us believe this predicament completely. His themes of family unity and the conflict of the old world and new world are strong and clear. And by putting the audience in the point of view of Nik, the idea of losing years off one’s life to this baffling and pointless conflict within one’s own greater family is mind-boggling and utterly frightful.
But perhaps in an effort not to sensationalize the subject matter in the typical Hollywood way, Marston seems to overcompensate and under-dramatize this wholly troubling story. Tristan Halilaj’s performance is too restrained and internalized, thus zapping the film of the desired tension or suspense.
The Forgiveness of Blood is available on The Criterion Collection on Blu-ray and DVD.