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The Forgiveness of Blood (Criterion Collection)
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on August 17, 2012
From the first lingering shot of the idyllic Albanian landscape, with majestic mountains in the background and windswept fields in the foreground, director Joshua Marston immerses the viewer in a powerful fictional tale about a very real issue -- the impact on the families who end up inheriting the "sins of the fathers" from violent blood feuds in one of the poorest European countries.

The beginning of the story quickly sets up the jarring contradictions faced by contemporary Albanians -- horse-drawn carriages alongside motorized vehicles, livestock on the soccer fields, adults and elders clinging to ancient oral traditions while the younger generation is wrapped up in videogames, television, Internet-enabled computers, and handheld mobile devices.

The greatest service Marston does is to shed light on this paradox as the Old clashes with the New, placing the seemingly unfathomable tradition of regulated blood feuds in human context. We see it played out to dramatic effect as a rivalry over land and access to a previously open road turns deadly. The key moment takes place off-camera, leaving it to our imaginations to determine whether it was truly an act of criminal murder or one of justifiable self defense. Emotions run high on both sides, so who is to blame and who is to be believed? The story is told through the eyes of young Nik, who must endure prolonged house arrest for what his father and uncle are accused of doing, and younger Rudina, who must become a primary income provider for her family, all of whom suddenly are tormented by an incident they neither participated in nor witnessed.

The performances of the entire cast are amazing, especially Refet Abazi as Mark, the father, whose every moment of screen time is like lightning trapped in a bottle, waiting to explode. He is at once sympathetic, noble, full of righteous fury, and boiling danger right beneath the surface.

The most amazing performances are by Tristan Halilaj as Nik and Sindi Lacej as Rudina, because this is the first acting job for both young stars, yet they manage to bring a genuine believability to their characters. Nik is transformed from a flirtatious youth dreaming of starting a cyber-cafe to a stir-crazy man yearning for freedom, trapped within the walls of his house and the prison of his own adolescent body. Rudina's journey is even more endearing and heartbreaking as she starts out as a bubbly girl happily sharing what she learned in school with her father and quickly has to grow up and become street-smart to save her family. Watching Rudina's brave actions in the face of crisis and all of her endearing moments of growth were, for me, some of the best moments of the film. Marston does a spectacular job of directing them and building on their natural instincts -- he even manages to give the family's beloved horse, Klinsmann, a personality.

It is not hard to imagine how an archaic legal code (the "Kanun" as Albanians call it) by Leke Dukagjini in the fifteenth century is still adhered to today by some. We have seen it in the frontier towns of America's mythologized Wild West, and in the true life American blood feud sensationalized by the Hatfields and the McCoys. What might seem a repulsive, amoral practice of "eye for an eye" vigilantism is actually a much more complex, regulated system in search of justice, which is often elusive in the power vacuum of post-Communist Albania, still facing economic hardships, low employment, and poor infrastructure. As people in authority and on the fringes take advantage of the systems for their own gain, the victims who seem to suffer most are the innocent masses -- the hardworking families struggling to make ends meet while holding on to their pride and ethics, and most tragically the children facing an unsure future.

The Forgiveness of Blood is an important portait of an Albanian culture in transition told as an engaging drama that will keep filmgoers on the edge of their seats, wondering what will happen next. It is a movie that deserves to be seen and discussed.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on November 1, 2012
I ordered this film to try to understand more about the cultural background of a story from my own family lore. My grandmother told the story of "Zio Francesco" who was a shepherd in Calabria in the previous century. The local bandits (now they would be called organized crime) would come periodically to take one or two of his flock, but he was a poor man and the result was real hardship. Finally he informed the carabinieri (local police) where they could find the bandits. They escaped, and the man knew that he could no longer leave the house without being killed. So, each day, he would send his small son out with the sheep. One day there was a thick fog, and the boy was afraid, so the man went out hoping to be veiled by the fog. But the bandits caught him and burned him alive.
Albania is the only country that codified in writing the ancient vendetta law, called the Kanon, but it held the force of custom through wide swaths of the Mediterranean. Before Albania was Communist, before it was Muslim, before it was Christian, the vendetta law ruled. When Albania fell to the Turks, many Albanians fled to Italy and settled in their own villages in Calabria. (My grandmother callled them the "Grecchi.") It was about that time or a little later that the Kanon was written down, back in Albania. I don't know whether the Italo-Albanians ever adopted the written Kanon, or if their customs have changed over the years. Under Communism, the Kanon was suppressed, but since the fall of Communism it has been brought back, though many question whether a custom that was suppressed that long can ever return exactly as it was. The movie belongs to this period, and that helps to explain why there are so many opinions expressed in the film about how the Kanon should be enforced.
The story is told from the point of view of the boy who has to stay inside, because he is just old enough to be under the ban. The end of the film is magnificent, a perfect resolution to what could easily have been a downer movie. One sees that the Kanon contains within itself some mechanisms for reconciliation. After watching the film, I feel like I have spent a couple of hours in today's Albania, and maybe in Calabria of two hundred years ago as well. This one is a keeper.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on November 14, 2012
The concept of blood feuds between families evolving from incidences that in most societies would be handled by an impartial legal system is instead in many parts of the world handled by informal and traditional reparations ranging from money to another life to be taken. Such is the case in Albania, long known as the North Korea of Europe, where some families still utilize a Kanun of traditional oral laws to resolve disputes and save face (honor). That repute is rapidly changing as new generations embrace a more open and communicative society - yet, resistance, as to be expected, still exists from the elders. Thus is our story.

The naturalistic acting which far exceeds what trained and experienced actors would have produced greatly enhances the believability of the story. That, coupled with fine cinematography and research, results in an engaging film experience.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Joshua Marston, best known as the director of drug mule story MARIA FULL OF GRACE, gives us here a poignant depiction of blood feuds in northern Albania. The script was cowritten by Andamion Murataj, the film was shot on location, and the actors are all Albanians, some of them amateurs, speaking the authentic Gheg dialect of their region.

Nik (Tristan Halilaj) is in his last year of high school and dreams of opening an internet/computer game café in his small town. His sister Rudina (Sindi Lacej) hopes to go on to university. Their dreams are dashed, however, when their father (Refet Abazi) kills a neighbour in a dispute over land. To avoid revenge attacks from the dead man's family, the males of the family are forced to stay inside their home at all times, a situation that could last for years while the community mediates the feud. With the father out of work, Rudina is forced to drop out of school, deliver a bread route, and buy contraband cigarettes to sell at a profit.

Marston and his cowriter are clearly interested in depicting the intersection of two worlds in Albania: mobile phones and cheap motorbikes alongside ancient laws that hold a man's honour sacred. What weakens the film, however, is that nowhere is it made clear that blood feuds are not a typical feature of contemporary Albanian life: while they briefly erupted in the early 1990s after the fall of Communism, and some families still live under them, it is very unusual for one to start today. Without mentioning that things have changed, this film misrepresents Albania and misleads Western viewers towards a Boratish caricature.

Note how other reviews here and elsewhere tend to commend the film more for "teaching them something about Albania" than for cinematography or acting. The camerawork is completely unimaginative, lacking any carefully composed tracking shots and depending far too often on a seasick shaky handheld camera following a walking actor. While the acting isn't outright bad, the deficiencies in the script only make their amateur effort stand out. While life for the men in the family is tedious as they can't step out of the house, this point is already sufficiently made by halfway through the film, and yet the script goes on and on without anything more to say. The ending seems ad hoc and doesn't really follow from the body of the film.

Criterion's DVD/Bluray edition contains as extras some interviews with Marston and the main actors.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 19, 2013
It was fascinating to watch this movie and learn about vendetta's still going on, in remote Northern Albania. It was great to see how the old and the new connect in that part of the world. I was left thinking that these things will continue to exist for as long as the families who live there now continue to inhabit the area. It is the darker side to long histories and long memories. On the bright side the family dynamics were movingly beautiful and strong. It was en-lighting.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 8, 2013
This foreign film is worth watching for a number of reasons. One, it is intelligently crafted around a very compelling story that covers an on-going land dispute between two families in rural Albania. As the plot thickens the viewer sees a little piece of ancient culture enacted with tragic consequences on the modern landscape. Everywhere there are signs of a country finally emerging from the dark ages led by youthful exuberance only to be stopped dead in their tracks by a bizarre practice from the past. While this is not the Albania of the Hoxha years, one might wonder how much has really changed. While cellphones, cars, electricity, television, computers and ambitions abound, there is still this little left-over from an earlier time: a blood-feud has ensued because someone has taken the law into their own hands and kill their neighbour's son over the right to road access through their disputed property. Two, this production focuses on the troubling relationships between the two disputing parties in a way that resembles a modern version of "Romeo and Juliet". The ancient demand for a blood atonement as a condition of forgiveness will end up destroying the dreams and aspirations of the next generation. The victims in this story will inevitably become the avenging victimizers. Permanent house arrest is the ultimate death sentence for anyone caught in this social trap. Three, this film does justice to passions and emotions flowing out of this deepening rift: alienation, distrust, despair, hatred, weariness, and hope are palpably etched into the faces and actions of all the family members. And, finally, I liked this work for how it showcases rural Albania as a land abounding in natural beauty, strange customs, enduring conflicts, new hopes, and terrible realities. For those who like to watch films that effectively portrays life with all its many cross-currents, this is one cinematic comedy you'll not want to miss.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 6, 2013
I thought Joshua Marston's 'Maria, full of Grace' was an excellent film and had made a note to see all his other films. This film is even more poignant, powerful and endearing at the same time. It is the story of two families in an Albanian village, embroiled in a deadly blood feud, sanctioned by an ancient law called the 'kanun'. It is also the story of archaic customs and rules coming in the way of cell-phone wielding young schoolboys and girls and their struggle to break free from this mould. It is also the story of women and girls showing a greater sense of maturity and pragmatism while the men keep themselves chained and ossified by patriarchy, centuries-old laws and by their own ego. I found the film gripping, thought-provoking and also enjoyable. The acting by first-time young actors like Tristan Halilaj and Sindi Laçej is brilliant.

Nik is a happy-go-lucky schoolboy who has a crush on a lovely girl who also studies in his school and has ambitions to start and own his own Internet cafe. He has two younger sisters and an younger brother and lives with his parents and his uncle. His peaceful life is suddenly overturned one day by the murder of Sokol, another villager. The suspects are Nik's father and uncle. Nik's uncle ends up in jail while Mark, his father, goes into hiding. According to the ancient law called the Kanun, this entitles Sokol's family to take revenge by killing one adult male member of Mark's family in return. Since Nik is the only qualifying member, he is confined to his house while his bright younger sister Rudina, takes over as the provider for the family. The happy-go-lucky young man is forced to grow up instantly, even as he stays under 'house-arrest'. The rest of the film deals with how Nik and his mother and sister view this whole problem and try to find a solution so that they can return to a normal life as free people in the village.

Watching the film, I was reminded in many ways of today's India as well. The film shows the contradictions of modern Albania with horse-carts and Mercedes Benz cars sharing the road, with the younger generation wanting to get an education and join the outside world and with schoolkids playing videogames and sending text-messages even as the elders grapple with upholding ancient rules which sanction an eye for an eye. All of this is just as true for today's India as well. There are pockets in India where we have honor killings, similar to the Kanun.
The director brings out beautifully the unfairness of young Rudina and Nik having to bear the dastardly consequences of the elders' blood feud even as they were just bystanders and non-participants. The film also is subtle in that the murder scene is not shown at all and is only inferred by the responses of the village to the act. So, we never know whether Mark and his brother are innocent or not and also we cannot conclusively determine that Sokol's family is the villain.

Director Marston has scored another hit with this film. The film is not just about Albania. It has an universal message for most of us from other backgrounds as well since we can all see parallels in the history of our own culture and traditions that resonate with this story.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon February 1, 2013
This is an unusual film from Albania and it deals with a blood feud. It is about a pair of neighbouring families who live in a rural village, Mark is the patriarch of one family who have had some of their land given to their neighbours by the `caring' state. They still use the road that runs through it as a shortcut, this is particularly needed as they rely on a bread delivery business which is done by a horse drawn cart type thing.
Anyway things get heated in an argument and the father Mark, and his brother end up sort of stabbing the neighbour to death. Mark bravely runs away but this leaves his family in the lurch. As the elders of the village decide that according to the rules of `the Nakun' that there needs to be blood for blood and in lieu of an agreement on that the men of the house should all be isolated. This means that even the boys are now under self imposed house arrest. The eldest son Nik (Tristan Halilaj) has his life put on hold. He has fallen for one of his high school class mates and was looking forward to graduating and having a life.

His sister is academically bright and now has to leave school to do the bread round and the little boy soon loses the will to live as the inevitable cabin fever gets to everyone. The only way forward is to give them blood or find another solution.

This is from director Joshua Marston (`Maria full of grace') and he has made a very entertaining film on a subject I had no idea existed. The idea that old world ideas still have relevance in dispute resolution is quite good and if it worked here we would save a fortune on prison costs. However it is really a film about growing up taking and abrogating responsibility and relationships - such is the stuff of life.

It is well acted, directed, the framing of the shots is both simple and effective and the music even works so not a lot wrong here at all. It is not a rollicking actioner and wont be for everyone. It is obviously in Albanian with good sub titles and is one for World cinema fans and those who like thing a bit different - recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 2, 2013
A subtitled drama of clannish taboos and sudden violence in the rural countryside of a little known Eastern European society. Much to its credit, this film employs excellent pacing and convincing acting to illustrate how vestigial medieval coda can still upturn the life of a modern day agricultural community. It is, by turn, entertaining, disturbing and loaded with cultural insights.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 28, 2012
I highly recommend this movie if you want to learn more about the Albanian people and the cultures they still hold on to.
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