You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Forgiveness of Blood

Director Joshua Marston applies his accessible indie style to an exotically set story.

With: Tristan Halilaj, Refet Abazi, Zana Hasaj, Erjon Mani, Luan Jaha, Cun Lajci, Veton Osmani, Selman Lokaj, Kol Zefi, Sindi Lacej, Ilire Vinca Celaj, Esmeralda Gjonlulaj, Elsajed Tallalli, Gjin Basha. (Albanian dialogue)

Director Joshua Marston once again casts his attention beyond conventional First World subjects in “The Forgiveness of Blood,” the remarkably relatable tale of an Albanian teen who finds his otherwise modern life derailed by the six-centuries-old tradition of problem solving via blood feud. As in “Maria Full of Grace,” Marston applies his accessible indie style to an exotically set story, shot on location and featuring impressive perfs from non-pro actors working in their native language. Though “Blood” lacks much of “Maria’s” momentum, mostly because its hero spends the film under house arrest, it should still travel international arthouses with ease.

Nik (Tristan Halilaj) is just like any other teenager, more interested in motorcycles and girls than in carrying on the cash-strapped family business. Given the chance, he’d like to open an Internet cafe in town, though his plans are cut short by a dispute between his father, Mark (Refet Abazi), and hot-headed Sokol (Veton Osmani), who inherited land that had been in Nik’s family for generations and now taunts the previous owners by refusing to let them pass.

The grown men’s disagreement seems little more evolved than a simple schoolyard squabble, and yet, in a confrontation the film allows to unfold offscreen, it easily escalates to violence, with Mark and his brother (Luan Jaha) stabbing Sokol to death. Though the Albanian police swiftly arrive to arrest Nik’s uncle, Mark manages to escape into hiding, leaving the rest of his family as targets for revenge.

The sins of the father are quite literally visited upon the sons in Albania, where a 15th-century legal code called the Kanun, still observed today, allows for the injured party to seek retribution by killing a male from the murderer’s family or seek outside mediation. A unique loophole protects the offending clan, however, so long as they remain respectfully out of sight at home — a situation that effectively cuts short all of Nik’s plans involving school, friends and romance, if only he can stay inside, which won’t be easy since he has his eye on a lovely classmate (Zana Hasaj).

The odd thing about this story — apart from the fact that Marston traveled halfway around the world to tell it — is that even without the Kanun, it could have been told in South Los Angeles, the Bronx or even contempo Tel Aviv (as in “Ajami,” which boasts a similar premise and a far flashier style). But Marston almost certainly saw “Blood” as a chance to explore the far bigger issue of how a country like Albania copes with the tug-of-war between its past (from the recently fallen communist regime all the way back to the rigid code of rules established by prince Leke Dukagjini half a millennium earlier) and future.

Intent on getting the details right, Marston enlisted Albanian helmer Andamion Murataj to co-write, co-produce and help cast the film, and together they craft a story that feels resolutely focused on its young characters. While Nik shows all the narcissism of youth, thinking of the feud solely in terms of how it impacts his life, his resourceful 15-year-old sister, Rudina (Sindi Lacej), emerges as the most respectable family member.

In her father’s absence, Rudina takes over his daily delivery route and even manages to expand the business in the process. Metaphorically speaking, she is the poster girl for Albanian progress, while Nik is too busy resenting his equally self-centered father for putting him in this position to see anything but escape as a way out.

Considering the premise, a certain stagnancy can’t be avoided, as Nik and his younger brother, Dren (Elsajed Tallalli), start to go stir-crazy in the house — which is practically a concrete prison unto itself — though there’s suspense in the fact that Sokol’s family is bloodthirsty enough, they can’t be relied upon to follow the Kanun to the letter. Still, Nik knows full well he’s risking his life every time he sneaks out. In the end, the tragedy of “Blood” is the fact that it forces Rudina, who shows the potential to go on to college and succeed on her own wits, to become the man of the house.

As in “Maria,” Marston mixes naturalistic handheld camerawork with artfully framed compositions in which shallow focus and white-hot sunlight bring us inside the characters’ heads. He also collaborates once more with composers Leonardo Heiblum and Jacobo Lieberman, whose score feels entirely appropriate to the locale, supplemented by a number of Albanian songs.

The Forgiveness of Blood


Production: A Fandango Portobello presentation in association with Artists Public Domain, Cinereach, Lissus Media of a Journeyman Pictures production. (International sales: Fandango Portobello Sales, London.) Produced by Paul Mezey. Executive producers, Janine Gold, Eric Abraham, Domenico Procacci, Hunter Gray, Tyler Brodie. Co-producers, Andamion Murataj, Gwen Bialic. Directed by Joshua Marston. Screenplay, Marston, Andamion Murataj.

Crew: Camera (Technicolor), Rob Hardy; editor, Malcolm Jamieson; music, Jacobo Lieberman, Leonardo Heiblum; production designer, Tommaso Ortino; set decorator, Oriana Kamberi; costume designer, Emir Turkeshi; sound (Dolby Digital), Judy Karp; re-recording mixer, Tom Efinga; visual effects, Jessica Elvin, Jay Tilin; associate producer, Andrew Goldman; assistant director, Joshua Newport; casting, Murataj. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (competing), Feb. 18, 2011. Running time: 109 MIN.

With: With: Tristan Halilaj, Refet Abazi, Zana Hasaj, Erjon Mani, Luan Jaha, Cun Lajci, Veton Osmani, Selman Lokaj, Kol Zefi, Sindi Lacej, Ilire Vinca Celaj, Esmeralda Gjonlulaj, Elsajed Tallalli, Gjin Basha. (Albanian dialogue)

More Film

  • Avengers EndGame Trailer

    ‘Avengers: Endgame’ Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Marvel claims the top spot in spending with “Avengers: Endgame.” Ads placed for the superhero film had an estimated media value of $6.28 million through Sunday for 927 national ad airings on 39 networks. (Spend figures [...]

  • Oscar OScars Placeholder

    Netflix Can Chill: Academy Rules No Change in Streaming Oscar Eligibility

    The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will not change eligibility rules for Oscar, despite speculation that streaming companies might see a crackdown on their release practices should they vie for the coveted trophies. A board of governors meeting on Tuesday voted to maintain the status quo, that any feature-length film can be considered [...]

  • Aniara review

    Film Review: 'Aniara'

    Each year brings an example or three of purported “thinking person’s science-fiction” films, a category that pretty much embraces anything not centered on monsters or lightsaber battles. These efforts are often more admirable in theory than result, but “Aniara” — the first film drawn from Nobel Prize-winning Swedish poet Harry Martinson’s 1956 cycle of 103 [...]

  • Avengers: Endgame

    'Avengers: Endgame' Reviews: What the Critics Are Saying

    It’s been a long year for Marvel fans since the release of “Avengers: Infinity War,” but the wait is nearly over. The finale to the Infinity Saga is here, and while most diehard fans will know to avoid them for fear of spoilers, early reviews are mostly positive. Last year’s “Infinity War” took home an [...]

  • American Made

    'American Made' Plane Crash Lawsuits End in Settlement

    The producers of the Tom Cruise film “American Made” have settled all litigation surrounding a 2015 plane crash in Colombia that killed two pilots. The settlement resolves pending suits in both California and Georgia. A notice of settlement was filed in Santa Monica Superior Court on Monday. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed. The [...]

  • Avengers: Endgame

    Film Review: 'Avengers: Endgame'

    SPOILER ALERT: The following review contains mild spoilers for “Avengers: Endgame.” The culmination of 10 years and more than twice as many movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “Avengers: Endgame” promises closure where its predecessor, “Avengers: Infinity War,” sowed chaos. That film — which revealed that the cookie-cutter uniformity of all those MCU movies had [...]

  • Avengers: Endgame

    'Avengers: Endgame': Why a $300 Million Opening Could Be Impossible

    “Avengers: Endgame” is preparing for a staggering debut between $250 million and $268 million in North America alone. Unprecedented anticipation surrounding the Marvel juggernaut has some particularly optimistic box office watchers tossing around even higher numbers, estimating the superhero tentpole could clear nearly $300 million in ticket sales in its first three days. If any film [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content