Film Review: The Forgiveness of Blood

Joshua Marston&#8217;s follow-up to his stunning <i>Maria Full of Grace</i> debut gets high marks for nice performances and immersion into a remote Albanian village, but narrative deficiencies render it a disappointment.

Joshua Marston made a stunning debut with the Oscar-nominated 2004 Maria Full of Grace, a skillfully wrought drama about a young Colombian woman who becomes a drug “mule” crossing the border into the U.S. to earn money for her family. The territory was familiar (the New York City area), but it was more than the familiar terrain that made the film so appealing and critically respected.

Marston’s second effort, The Forgiveness of Blood, is another stab at challenging material. The remote, barren Albanian locales may be alien, but it’s the featherweight story that alienates in this less satisfying sophomore slump.

The hook is sturdy: a blood feud involving two families at war over perceived betrayals and sins of dishonor. Hero Nik (Tristan Halilaj) is a fun-loving small-town teenager with a crush on a local beauty and ambitions to start his own Internet café. But then his father (Refet Abazi) and uncle get into a dust-up over access to a road controlled by Sokol (Veton Osmani); again, protection of/reverence for property reveal their sacred, primitive roots since the caveman days. When the confrontations lead to murder, the feud escalates.

A centuries-old Albanian law still in place today allows the victim’s family to take the life of a male from the offending family as retribution. With Nik’s uncle in jail and his father in hiding, the boy becomes the main target. Confined to his home, he bonds more closely with younger sister Rudina (Sindi Laçej), who takes over the family business of selling bread to the community, and with little brother Dren (Elsajed Tallalli). The tension reaches its peak when Nik walks over to the enemy’s house to try to achieve a peace.

Forgiveness interests because it convincingly presents a place and culture rarely seen on films or even in newscasts. Adding to the authenticity are the wholly committed nonprofessional local actors Marston has engaged.

In spite of the film’s video look, the director deserves credit for capturing so remote a region and securing access to its people and earning their trust. Still, The Forgiveness of Blood reminds that story, left by a dusty roadside, is what really matters.