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The Forgiveness of Blood

Posted by martinteller on April 16, 2013

Nik (Tristan Halilaj) is an ordinary Albanian teenager.  He’s glued to his cell phone, he’s in love with a girl (Zana Hasaj), he dreams of opening an internet café.  But then his father, Mark (Refet Abazi), gets into a pickle.  Mark delivers bread in his horse-drawn wagon, and he’s been using a shortcut across a neighbor’s land.  The neighbor confronts him and insults him.  Mark and his brother Zef (Luan Jaha) go back and kill the neighbor.  Now there is a demand for vengeance.  Mark goes into hiding, and under the rules of the Albanian code called the Kanun, the males of his family are forbidden to leave their house or the other family has the right to kill them.  It’s up to Nik’s younger sister Rudina (Sindi Lacej) to take up the bread delivery business.  But threats are flying and as the situation intensifies, Nik is torn between his desire for sensible resolution and his own urge for blood.

This is director Joshua Marston’s second feature, and his second in a language that is not his own.  The first was the wonderfully gripping Maria Full of Grace.  Here he displays not only a similar talent for directing in a foreign language (with screenplay assistance by Andamion Murataj) but also small-scale drama with consequences that feel epic.  In fact, I got quite a Dardennes vibe from this film, also because of the use of non-professional actors and the unadorned style (although Marston uses more scoring, some fine music too).

The predicament is intriguing in how it explores the generation gap between macho traditions and the more modern sensibilities of the youths.  Nik doesn’t want any part of this ridiculousness, but when push comes to shove, that gun starts to feel good in his hands.  Although women are undervalued in this society, Rudina is able to step up to the plate and make new business decisions.  But the old ways step in and crush her talents.  It’s a sober tale, where cooler heads prevail only in minor ways.  Feuds continue, and the future is uncertain.

I did like Marston’s first film a bit more, it had a stronger central character.  But this is a fine follow-up and Marston’s ability to mine human flaws and conflict for nuance is admirable.  Rating: Very Good (81)

IMDb
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