Reviewed by Marc Glassman
Joshua Marston, director and co-script w/Andamion Murataj
Winner of the Silver Bear award for best script at the 2011 Berlin Film Festival, The Forgiveness of Blood was disallowed as the Albanian entry in the 2012 Academy Awards nominees for best foreign film Oscar. Bujar Alimani, director of the Albanian film Amnesty, complained that the film had American money and was directed by U.S. citizen Joshua Marston.
The director’s reply? “I think there’s a problem with the system when Hollywood claims to know better than the submitting country whether a film belongs to them. It is incredibly disempowering and disenchanting for a country with a young film industry,” said Marston.
Family melodrama; ethnographic drama
In present day Albania, a blood feud erupts when Mark and his brother kill Sokol, a very aggressive neighbour, who has refused them access to an ancient road that runs through his land. Mark’s wife and four children are confined to their own house after he escapes unpunished. According to centuries-old Albanian folk law, a family that has killed another is punished by virtual imprisonment until an accommodation takes place. Until the families declare peace, the aggrieved relatives of the murdered man are allowed to kill any male—even a four year old—who leaves the ancestral home.
Most affected by the feud are Mark’s teenagers, Nik, a very popular fun-loving lad and his sister Rubina, a bright student who wants to go to university. Suddenly, Nik is confined to home and Rubina has to drop school to keep the family’s bread delivery service alive.
As the feud and isolation continues, Nik begins to suffer from “cabin fever.” Rubina quietly is in pain, too, realizing that her future is being sacrificed to an ancient custom. What will Mark do to help his family?
How will the blood feud be resolved?
Shot on location in mountainous Albania, with a cast of semi-and non-professionals, The Forgiveness of Blood has the feel of a documentary. Reinforcing this impression is the oddity of the recent release of Jennifer Baichwal’s and Margaret Atwood’s Payback, a genuine documentary that, in part, deals with a real Albanian blood feud.
All of the performances in The Forgiveness of Blood are naturalistic and persuasive—and feel “real.” None stand out—but nothing feels amiss, as well.
Jonathan Marston’s direction—or a great collective effort by Albanian cast and crew—has resulted in a film that reminds one of the great Iranian films of a decade ago—The White Balloon, The Cyclist, A Taste of Cherry—and even more of the Italian neo-realist cinema of the ‘40s and early ‘50s—Rome, Open City; The Bicycle Thief; Shoeshine.
Like Rossellini, de Sica, Makhmalbaf and Kiarostami, Marston has put us into a human drama that is personal and somehow epic. He is a gifted director with an intriguing future in front of him.
The Forgiveness of Blood is unique. How many films have you seen from Albania? Director Jonathan Marston has told a great story, invoking folklore but placing it—rather dramatically—in a modern context. Not for everyone—clearly—but this is a film well worth seeing.