Starring Tristan Halilaj and Sindi Lacej. Unrated. Opens Friday, April 27, at the Vancity Theatre
The Forgiveness of Blood opens quietly, with a horse cart bumping along a primitive road until it comes to a row of rocks that someone has laid in its path. A man steps out to move them and drives on, and so, quietly, begins one of Albania’s bizarre blood feuds.
The man, it turns out, is in a war over the land with his neighbour, and the perceived dishonour leads to a violent confrontation. He runs into hiding, leaving his family to struggle under the 600-year-old rules of the country’s so-called Kanun. It allows the neighbours to take the life of a male family member as retribution, and so teenaged son Nik (Tristan Halilaj) is confined indefinitely to his house—the only place considered a safe zone.
Because these feuds (also recently portrayed in the documentary Payback) often last for years, Nik can throw away his dreams of dating the most beautiful girl in school or someday opening an Internet café. He goes slowly stir-crazy, but the implications are just as bad for his siblings, especially the eldest daughter, Rudina (Sindi Lacej): she dreamed of going to university but now has to spend her days driving her father’s bread cart.
American filmmaker Joshua Marston shows restraint, casting the story as a battle between generations—one tied to the ancient, horse-drawn world, the other wielding cellphones and video games. Post-Communist Albania’s median age is only 28, and Marston captures the frustrations of growing up in a land stubbornly tied to tribal ideas of honour.
The acting is sensitive, the landscapes are bleakly beautiful, and the Albanian music lends a lilting authenticity, but Forgiveness lacks the narrative force of Marston’s stunning Colombia-set directorial debut, 2004’s Maria Full of Grace. House arrest and blood feuds are fascinating cultural peculiarities, but, like Nik, they aren’t left with a lot of places to go.
Watch the trailer for The Forgiveness of Blood.