Friday, April 6, 2012
Director: Joshua Marston
Producer: Paul Mezey, Andamion Murataj, Gwen Bialic
Cast: Tristan Halilaj, Sindi Lacej, Refet Abazi, Ilire Vinca Celaj, Zana Hasaj
Foreign Indie Drama
1 hours, 49 minutes
As a follow-up to the Colombian-set film Maria Full of Grace, Joshua Marston chose to make the completely Albanian-set film Falja e Gjakut (The Forgiveness of Blood). He takes as his focus the moral code known as the Kanun which was instituted in the 15th century by the Albanian prince Leke Dukagjini. According to the Kanun, a victim's family members have the right to exact revenge on any adult male member of the perpetrators. But as long as they stay in their home, they are exempt from punishment.
The Kanun was recently featured in the excellent Jennifer Baichwal documentary Payback, based on the Margaret Atwood book Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth. In examining the concept of debt from various perspectives, we see the Kanun being enforced in a real-life situation and to what ridiculous lengths people will cling to their anger and grudges.
In the fictional The Forgiveness of Blood, we see the effects of the Kanun on brother and sister Nik (Tristan Halilaj) and Rudina (Sindi Lacej) when their family becomes embroiled in a dispute with a neighbour and their father Mark (Refet Abazi) is an accused in his death. Nik has dreams of starting up an internet café and has begun a relationship with his pretty classmate Bardha (Zana Hasaj). But he is forced to become a prisoner in his own home, while his sister Rudina must give up school to take over her father's bread-selling business when he goes into hiding.
What we don't see, however, is the death itself. At first, I found this rather odd. On reflection, it makes sense because what happened in many ways doesn't really matter. Those who were there remember it the way they want to, with themselves as the victims and the other side as the guilty party.
The Forgiveness of Blood won the Silver Bear for Best Script at the 61st Berlin International Film Festival. It had been submitted by Albania to the Academy for consideration for Best Foreign Language Film but director Bujar Alimani protested that it was more American than Albanian. The Academy agreed and Albania resubmitted with Alimani's film Amnistia (Amnesty).
Although it seems like petty politics, this was the correct decision because The Forgiveness of Blood is really a Marston film. It is very stylish and beautifully shot. The acting is very naturalistic. Technically, it is very accomplished. But it is a blip on the Albanian scene and really is not representative of the local cinema.
Nonetheless it does a fine job of capturing a sense of verisimilitude and portraying its characters with sensitivity and honesty.