The Forgiveness of Blood (Sundance Selects, NR)

film forgiveness_75The Forgiveness of Blood doesn’t feel like a typical American indie film, and I mean that in the best way.



Joshua Marston takes his time between films. His last feature, Maria Full of Grace, came out in 2004, although he’s done some television work since then, as well as directing a segment of New York, I Love You. This pace seems to work for Marston, however, because his new film, The Forgiveness of Blood, is the best I’ve seen so far this year. Granted, the year is young, but Forgiveness of Blood offers a vivid narrative and an appreciation of moral complexity quite different from the typical American indie film, and achieves profundity through deceptively simple means.

The story centers on an ordinary family living in a small town in the Albanian countryside. The central characters are the oldest children of the Lindani family. Fifteen-year-old Rudina (Sindi Lacej) is an avid student who also accompanies her father on his daily bread delivery route, while Nik (Tristan Halilaj), her older brother, is more interested in motorbikes and girls. They live half in the modern world of blue jeans and cell phones and half in a world of horse-drawn carts and ancient moral codes.

The clash of these eras is brought to the forefront when their father Mark (Refet Abazi) and uncle (Luan Jaha) become involved in an altercation regarding a right of way, killing a man who refuses them the right to cross over property once held by their family. This crime invokes the 15th-century legal code of the Kanun, in which entire families can be held hostage for a crime committed by one of their own. Mark goes into hiding, leaving Nik and his younger brother as the only men in the household. They are forced to stay indoors, because if they venture outside their home they face death from the relatives of the dead man.

Rudina is forced to drop out of school to take over the bread route (females are exempt from the blood vengeance) and she adapts reasonably well, adding cigarettes to her wares and negotiating prices with adults far more experienced than herself. The boys fare less well, quickly growing weary of the strain of constantly being indoors with nothing to do. Rudina also resents her fate, as she wishes to stop delivering bread and continue her education. Clearly, this is not a stable situation, but you don’t from know what direction resolution will come until almost the end of the film.

Shot on location and maintaining a deliberate pace throughout, The Forgiveness of Blood honors the virtues of small-town life as well as the beauty of the Albanian countryside, without being blind to the potentially tragic outcomes of adherence to a rigid code of honor. Marston co-wrote the script with New York-based Albanian filmmaker and writer Andamion Murataj, and it conveys respect for local traditions while also offering up a critique of them.

The Forgiveness of Blood doesn’t feel like a typical American indie film, and I mean that in the best way. Marston has made a real effort to understand the locale in which the film is set, rather than treating it as an exotic backdrop to a story which could have been set in any number of other locations. Most of the cast are nonprofessionals and this works in their favor, as the film seems as real as a documentary. | Sarah Boslaugh

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