“The Forgiveness of Blood” is a meticulous film from Albania, beautifully crafted by writer/director Joshua Marston (co-written with Andamion Murataj) and his crew. It was shown to great reception at the Berlin International Film Festival, even nabbing a few awards, and deservedly so. With a ghostly pace and multiple storylines, the film brings to question the importance of family unity during trying times, breaking with tradition and the consequences of pride.
Set in the farmland of Albania, the story begins by examining the relationship between the stoic Mark (Refet Abazi) and his two oldest children, introverted teenagers Nik (Tristan Halilaj) and Rudina (Sindi Lacej). He is a stern but fair father, steeped in tradition and pride. A rugged man of the old days that refuses to let bad blood settle and an arrogant slight go unheard.
Surrounding these early introductions is the slow burning rivalry between Mark’s family and the family of Sokol (Veton Osmani). Sokol’s family inherited the land that Mark’s family once owned when the Communist party took control, giving the land to the working peasants. It is a rivalry of pride and honor, where one defends what land he has in order to continue his livelihood. Role reversal, a common theme in the film, ignites in the early scenes where Mark and Sokol bicker at each other like children, where the actual children try to make sense of something they had no part in except through ancestry.
When an ambiguous crime is committed at the hands of Mark and his brother Zef-- ambiguous in that we don’t see it and only hear about it through gossip and Mark’s prideful rebuttals--prompting Mark to go on the run, Nik and Rudina are charged by their mother to retain control of the daily routines. In another case of role reversal, Rudina is made to continue the daily bread routes while Nik is tasked with watching his younger siblings Dren and Bora. Tasks neither want any part in.
The film is a revenge tail without the rivers of red. Don’t expect bullets and bloodshed. This is a contemplative film that slowly reels the audience in, drawing from them a growing paranoia about the characters’ safety as scene by scene carries on without a major act of rebuttal from Sokol’s family. It’s the waiting that threatens to disintegrate Nik and Rudina’s family. It’s the quiet waiting that will attract you to this film. Minimalistic at heart, this film harkens to Robert Bresson in its portrayals; there’s no theatricality to the performances, the action is sporadic, the music all but non-existent, the dialogue sparse but cuts through to the character’s true nature.
And it is their nature that separates the characters from being in line with tradition. Nik is a child of my generation: restless, selfish, easily inconvenienced, yearning for momentary thrills, filled with wishful thinking and ignorance to the traps those wishes hold. He is alien to responsibility, therefore he is awkward when appointed ‘man of the house.’ He does not want to stay and work the family farm, and neither does Rudina. Where Nik wants to find out what lies beyond the norm of the farm, Rudina simply wants to go to university, knowing that anything less will damn her to her mother’s life of serving a husband and a family. They are 21st century teenagers pigeonholed in the life of a 19th century peasant.
Ultimately the film narrows down to Nik’s yearning for freedom from the daily routine of life on the farm. Yet his freedom is ironic considering he is barely shown doing any laboring on the farm or in the house. His is a selfish yearning. A yearning bred from being bored and becoming complacent with his role in the house. His idea of freedom is being left alone to do as he pleases, whether it be hopelessly chasing the pretty girl or riding motorbikes or faking masculinity.
What he leaves out of the equation are the finer points of being free. Freedom means responsibility. Freedom means survival. Nik knows neither of these. So when, in an absolutely brilliant plot twist, he is given his “freedom,” he is left to find whether his dreams are worth the strife it has caused himself and his family. Since his yearning for freedom boils down to simply wanting to be “anywhere but here,” the film’s end senses his disappointment will carry through his new journey until some type of closure is made, either between the rivaling families or within himself.
“The Forgiveness of Blood” is a quiet, poignant depiction of the young ones’ battle with a tradition they do not understand or want any part of. The separation of generations is prevalent, as Nik does not fit into the mold of men like his father. It is Rudina who is more like Mark, especially as she attempts to reign in Nik’s frustrations as well as her own disappointments. She is the one seeking closure, knowing that personal closure can only aid a situation she wants no part in but has to play through for the sake of blood.
DIRECTOR: Joshua Marston SCREENWRITERS: Joshua Marston, Andamion Murataj CAST: Refet Abazi, Tristan Halilaj, Veton Osmani, Sindi Lacej RUNTIME: 109 minutes MPAA RATING: Not Rated