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February 22, 2012

The Forgiveness of Blood

Forgiveness of bloodCo-writer/director Joshua Marston returns eight years after his impressive debut feature "Maria Full of Grace" with an equally dramatic story of young people living in difficult circumstances. Once again ignoring his American upbringing, Marston grapples this time with the mores of an Albanian village where blood feuds present a draconian way of settling scores. The six-century-old practice is called upon after a lethal off-screen act of perceived self-defense exiles teenage Nik (Tristan Halilaj) to the confines of his family home.

Marston's bold use of nonprofessional actors is the film's secret weapon. Lanky Nik is a high school student with a crush on the pretty girl in school. Tristan Halilaj's sensitive nature reveals a wellspring of roiling emotions and aspirations. Nik wants to build up his scrawny physique. He has a dream of opening an internet café in a tiny available storefront. Nik’s teenaged sister Rudina (Sindi Lacej) gives him unwelcome advice as to how to dress.

A dispute arises when Nik’s father Mark (Refet Abazi) drives his horse-pulled bread delivery cart across land formerly owned by his grandfather. The land’s current owner Sokol (Veton Osmani) forbids Mark from using the road anymore, and physically threatens Mark with a weapon in the presence of Rudina. Hours later Sokol lies dead after being stabbed to death by Mark’s brother (Luan Jaha) with Mark’s help. Nik’s uncle is arrested and put in jail while his father goes on the lamb.

The law of the land states that the family of the deceased can extract retribution by killing a male member of the guilty clan. While Rudina abandons school to take over her father’s bread delivery job, Nik is left to ponder a solution while stuck in the confines of the family home.

“The Forgiveness of Blood” is a sublime tragedy in its artless depiction of a society attempting to maintain social order with outdated methods. The film leaves itself open for extrapolation about how the Western world remains stuck in outdated modes of dealing with a world that has advanced beyond its World War II era ideologies. Deeply affecting, “The Forgiveness of Blood” is notable for how much is outshines foreign chamber think-pieces such as “A Separation.”

Not Rated. 109 mins. (A) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)


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