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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars While the landscape depicted here is beautiful, the human drama is interminable, out of date and "silly customs" tourism, March 6, 2014
This review is from: The Forgiveness of Blood (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
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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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 21, 2015 5:43:26 PM PST
A. Doane says:
I'm surprised to read you thought the camera work was lacking - I was impressed with it. Interesting POV (like in the horse cart), well composed shots with natural light, vertical symmetry in shots. As someone who doesn't know anything about the country, my assumption was that this story was of a rural family, not something that represented modern, common Albania. I don't think you give the audience enough credit - the subset of people who would even pick up an Albanian language film in the first place surely aren't so blinded as to believe that this single story is representative.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 23, 2015 11:59:51 AM PST
"my assumption was that this story was of a rural family, not something that represented modern, common Albania"

The film takes place in a small town not far from Shkodra, with cross-border traffic over to very modern Montenegro. I've cycled and hitchhiked around that area on several occasions. It's not in an especially isolated place. The plot for this film would have been plausible in the early 1990s, but Marston missed the boat.

"I don't think you give the audience enough credit..."

No, I don't, sorry. One thing I've learned from Amazon is that Criterion films are watched by a lot of people who picked these up only because they were bored, and who are not interested in any sort of wider context. I have no doubt that many people have seen this and, because they don't bother to learn something about contemporary Albania from another source, assume that blood feuds are still a major thing.
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