THE FORGIVENESS OF BLOOD

Director: Joshua Marston
Year: 2011
Country: Albania

Albania is another country with a healthy film industry all its own. A communist state for several decades, Albanian film-making was once largely financed and influenced by Soviet interests, and by all accounts some definite classics of Eastern European cinema came out of that period. It proved a little tricky to get hold of any of these films in decent quality and with English subtitles, however, so I’ve chosen a more recent Albanian film for this entry.

The movie is set in a remote village in modern-day Albania, and no time is wasted before we are shown some picturesque scenery:

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A typical day in scenic rural Albania.

The two figures in that postcard-worthy opening shot are the teenager Nik, and his father Mark. Not long after this scene, the tranquility is swiftly shattered. Mark has an argument with his neighbour about the fencing between their property, and this argument escalates to violence. The neighbour is killed. Mark goes on the run, and a blood feud develops between the two families.

According to the Kanun, a traditional Albanian code of honour, the relatives of the dead man are entitled to kill a male member of the family that has wronged them. As the oldest son, Nik is therefore confined to the house for his own safety. Thus emerges one of the film’s major themes – the failures of the traditional, patriarchal order. The negotiation scenes between the male elders of the two families are fruitless and frustrating, with masculine pigheadedness on both sides preventing a peaceful resolution.

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The men of the family endlessly discuss the matter of restitution.

The film is very much concerned with the tension between the old and the new in Albanian culture. The tiny horse and cart seen above, for example, is overshadowed by the massive trucks on the roads when we see it taken into town. And Nik’s dream of opening his own internet cafe is frustrated by the antiquated rituals that the older generations still adhere to, which are now preventing him from even stepping outside. This contrast between the old Albania and the new is fascinating at first. We see negotiations play out between the men of the families, and the impacts these have on their children. But in my view the film’s weakness is its focus on Nik and the stir-craziness he experiences in the house. His petulance and frustration are understandable, but start to irritate after a while nonetheless.

Meanwhile, with Nik housebound and his father missing, his mother and sister must assume new responsibilities and provide for the family. Nik’s sister Rudina takes on the task of selling bread and cigarettes from the family’s cart, defying gender roles and therefore dealing with unmasked hostility from both sides of the feud. This provides a much more engaging plot than Nik’s increasing cabin fever, but sadly one that we only see briefly.

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Rudina, the film’s most compelling character, quits school to take on the duties of both her father and brother.

Overall, The Forgiveness of Blood is compelling, and offers an insight into a culture that has a foot planted in both the cyclical violence of the past, and the liberating potential of the future. Its depiction of a family structure in crisis is effective, but to my mind would have been elevated by focusing more on Rudina’s story than Nik’s.

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