Monday, March 26, 2012

The Forgiveness of Blood Review

By David Salazar

Despite the controversy that this film has created, there is no denying the raw power of "Forgiveness of Blood."

Set in rural Albania, the story details the growth of an adolescent set against the background of a feud between neighboring families over property. Mark (Refet Abazi), father of 4 children, constantly "trespasses" over his neighbor Sokol's (Veton Osmon) territory in order to shortcut his way into the village. Eventually, their arguing escalates when Sokol threatens Mark in front of Rudina, Mark's oldest daughter. Mark naturally runs off, gets his brother and the two men proceed to kill Sokol, invoking not only stringent cultural traditions, but also setting off a chain of events that essentially destroy the unity of Mark's family. 

Director Joshua Marston fluidly integrates such cultural elements as the kanun ( the code that governs local behavior), and the besa (a brief amnesty issued by the party that declares war on another) enabling for the viewer to comprehend the world of the story with greater ease. 

Nik, played by Tristan Halilaj, is an innocent young man; hesitant to take a drink with the men; timid about revealing his feelings toward his school crush Bardha; and simply following his father's directions. But after his father's heinous crime and consequent disappearance, Nik is asked to take care of his brother and sisters. The problem is that Nik and his siblings must remain inside the home. According to tradition, any one of the Mark's son's is free prey for Sokol's family in the blood for blood tradition. Both Nik and his younger brother are hence the primed targets of revenge. But what becomes increasingly difficult for Nik to deal with is the fact that his opinion is of no consequence to the elder men in his family as they attempt to settle . As Nik's friends all start to move with their lives, it becomes clear that Nik may not be able to maintain his sanity. What ensues is the complex portrait of an individual trying to grow into manhood and find his independence despite the perpetual prison state  he endures on a daily basis. 

This is far from a feel good coming of age story. Toward the end of the film, Nik in his state of desperation scrapes up a bedroom wall, an act both of anger and frustration, but one that may insinuate some darker thoughts that this young man can't seem to bring himself to do. The act of desecrating his own home emphasizes his true feelings toward his family. An even more chilling scene near the end of the film in which Nik contemplates the death of a family member to ensure his freedom is easily the most haunting moment of the entire piece.

Marston also provides a great deal of emphasis on Rudina (Sindi Lacej), who literally takes on the role of the bread runner as she distributes and sells bread in her father's stead to provide for the family. Rudina is instantly removed from her childhood and forced into the role of adult even before Nik and while Nik is able to maintain certain friendships (even if scarecly), Rudina has no time to commit to a social life. By the end of the film, Marston emphasizes her as the main person sacrificed in this entire feud.

The film, shot in 16mm, is filled with a grainy visual texture that emphasizes the rural environment with its dry pastures. There was clearly no intent for a glossy look as certain scenes are severely underexposed to add to the raw grit of the images. One particularly striking example is Nik and Bardha's meeting in the middle of the night. Save for small sliver light to illuminate the two characters' faces, the entire space is black, reminiscent of a chiaroscuro painting.

The violence of the film and its grim outlook spurred a great deal of controversy in Albania when the film was considered for submission to the Academy Award for foreign language film. Certain Albanians were incensed that an American would make a film that indicted there culture so openly. However, Marston has been known to make other film's presenting other culture's greatest social issues ("Maria Full of Grace" and Colombia's Drug Trafficking comes to mind).

Regardless of whether the film portrays the culture accurately or not, is not the deciding factor of this film's quality. The context withstanding, this film portrays a universal story with brutal honesty.

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