Blood feuds between families have their place in American history, but they’re largely relegated to the past and the fierce disputes of the Hatfields and McCoys, the Earps and Clantons, and the Reese and Townsends. It’s been a full century since the last epic American feud erupted, but elsewhere in the world it’s a far more common occurrence, such as in the turbulent communities of Albania where conflicts can keep some families sequestered for days, months, or even years. Joshua Marston’s excellent The Forgiveness of Blood covers just such a happening, and tells it through the eyes of the children of a man forced into hiding after an argument escalates and reopens old wounds.
A family of bakers who rely on a quick route through another family’s land to deliver to their clients have maintained a tenuous relationship with the landowners, but it hasn’t always been a comfortable relationship and there are years of strife between the generations on both sides. While the old-timers have softened their once hardline dislike for their counterparts in the other family, the men who currently shoulder the responsibility of providing for wives and children are still very much in the feud mindset, and so when an argument turns bloody, the family with land cuts off passage and demands that blood be spilt in penance. Consequently, the father (Refet Abazi) of Nik (Tristan Halilaj) and Rudina (Sindi Lacej) goes into hiding, forcing the two teens to spend weeks out of school and in the protection of their own home, lest they venture out and become the sacrifice in their father’s place.
For Nik and Rudina this plan has different consequences. Nik must stay indoors at virtually every hour, forcing him to miss school and all the social interaction that comes with it. The girl he has a crush on continues going to parties and all Nik can do is hope she’ll wait for him to return to civilization if and when the feud ends. Rudina on the other hand, less of a target for being a girl, takes up the responsibilities of the family business, making deliveries and learning just how cutthroat it can be if she’s not able to get out and about early enough to prevent her customers from buying from another bakery. It’s a task that’s made far more difficult by the distance she has to travel in lieu of using the much shorter route now forbidden to her family. To soften the blow she begins exploring alternate forms of profit, like unmarked cigarettes.
Regardless of their separate duties in the face of the feud, both Nik and Rudina end up at the same perspective on this seemingly age old tradition of Albanian culture: it’s pointless. Nik’s arrival at this point, however, has a bit more weight as it requires him to reject his father and, if the situation allows, leave his home, family, and everything he’s ever known behind. Is there a price that’s too high for a chance to escape a seemingly endless cycle of violence and grief? Or is it the only way to end a problem that repeats with each new generation?
There’s doubtless little support of the idea that blood feuds are a good idea, but such sense has little place in a mourning process when all a family can do is ask why their loved one had to die and who was responsible. At which point, all rational thought goes out the window and the cycle begins anew. It’s a concept that’s really no different from the family of a murder victim pressing for the death penalty, only in the case of Albania there’s no judge or jury to confirm or deny the family’s bloodlust. Joshua Marston runs the characters through the many available options for the family demanding blood and the one hoping to wait out the storm, and until an impossible entity capable of easing generations of tensions or at the very least one capable of enforcing a permanent ceasefire exists, Marston’s solution for Nik seems inevitable.
Blu-ray Bonus Features
Besides very basic extras like cast auditions or rehearsal footage, the Blu-ray boasts two excellent featurettes that see Director Joshua Marston sitting down with actors Abazi, Halilaj, and Lacej to discuss the film and how they came to be a part of it, as well as a look at modern Albania and how the problems of the film exist in the real world through the eyes of the cast and the producer. A trailer and decent audio commentary (which offers additional insight into the history of Albanian feuds) round out the disc. Finally, the set also includes the requisite booklet insert featuring an essay about the feuds by film writer Oscar moralde.
"The Forgiveness of Blood (The Criterion Collection)" is on sale October 16, 2012 and is not rated. Drama. Directed by Joshua Marston. Written by Joshua Marston, Andamion Murataj. Starring Tristan Halilaj, Sindi Lacej.