The Forgiveness of Blood


Directed by Joshua Marston. Starring Tristan Halilaj, Sindi Lacej, Refet Abazi, Ilire Vinca Celaj, Club, IFI, Dublin, 109 min

JOSHUA MARSTON, the American director of Maria Full of Grace, makes another journey overseas with this tense, clammy drama set in a remote corner of Albania. One thinks of the recent magnificent Romanian drama Katalin Varga, which also concerned itself with a fierce feud. The Forgiveness of Blood deals in similar degrees of dread, but its restraint ultimately proves its undoing. A few more unsheathed knives would have been welcome.

The film begins with Mark (Refet Abazi), who survives by selling bread, driving his horse-drawn cart across a rocky stretch of ground. It transpires that the right of way is disputed. The owner of the land eventually decides to bar access and – in an incident unseen by the audience – is stabbed to death. Mark is accused of the murder and flees the area with a relative.

It seems that a tradition of vendetta, unaltered by decades of communism, still applies in this corner of Albania. The family of the murdered man imposes a class of house arrest on Mark’s family.

Marston’s subject is the effect the dispute has on the younger generation. Nik (Tristan Halilaj), a teenager with yearnings to break free, sinks into a volcanic sulk. Rudina (Sindi Lacej), his younger sister, takes over the family business and, previously interested in college, considers expanding into cigarette sales.

Each of the actors makes something fully fleshed of his or her role. The reliably excellent Rob Hardy shoots the picture in a restrained style that contrasts markedly with his more stylised work on the Red Riding trilogy.

One never gets the sense that Marston is imposing any sort of Hollywood gloss on his modern folktale. But for all its integrity (maybe, because of its integrity), The Forgiveness of Blood does feel a little short of momentum and a bit light on, well, blood. We are never quite sure whose story is being told. The threat is often too obscure.

Solid stuff, for all that.

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