By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
One of my favorite selections of the college film cannon I was exposed to back in the mid-Aughts was Maria, Full of Grace, a heartbreakingly realist feeling story of a Colombian girl turned drug mule. I was surprised to later learn that this Spanish language film was actually directed by an American- Joshua Marston. I’ve been waiting for his follow-up ever since, and now he’s finally delivered it… in Albanian?
Their flag is cool… and that’s all I know about Albania
The Forgiveness of Blood follows a family that’s faced with some tough choices when a feud over land ends in tragedy. The killer’s family is trapped in their house until proper atonement is made for the blood shed, either in kind or through forgiveness purchased at a price negotiated by a mediator. Young Nik (Tristan Halilaj) finds himself the man of the house with his father on the lam, but it’s his strong willed, practical sister Rudina (Sindi Lacej) who takes up the mantle of providing for the family while the menfolk are trapped inside.
You have to applaud Marston’s ambition. The man knows a good story when he sees it, and won’t let pesky things like language barriers or a lack of trained actors stand in the way of telling it. With Maria, Full of Grace, he guided a cast of largely first-time actors and actresses to a level of success that even saw one of them, Catalina Sandino Moreno, earn herself a Best Actress nomination. Although that’s unlikely to happen here, especially after this film was shut out of the Foreign Language Film race due to some ugly politics, he’s similarly successful with this effort.
Politicking compromises the Oscars? What a concept!
The entire cast delivers wonderfully natural performances that enhance the realism of the film, with Halilaj in particular given a heavy load to carry, which he handles very well. The standout for me, though, is Lacej, whose acting rivals Moreno’s job in Maria, and who even bears a bit of a physical resemblance to her. She creates a determined young woman forced to grow up quickly, but whose age and inexperience occasionally break through that though exterior.
Marston supports these performances with some gorgeous cinematography of Albania’s beautiful, anachronistic countryside, using a grainy, Cinéma vérité-style to enhance the realism of his story that much further. And the story itself is a fascinating look at the complex family dynamics and clannish politics of a society completely unfamiliar to most moviegoers. When it finally climaxes with a chilling ultimatum, it’s hard not to feel the blow right in your stomach after coming to empathize so much with these characters.
A crucial component of this story is the boredom and ennui provoked by what is essentially an overlong house arrest. Unfortunately, it’s pretty difficult to convey boredom without being, well, boring. This isn’t a huge problem, but a little tightening up here and there could have kept my mind from wandering the few times it did.
Joshua Marston returns to the feature film game with another incredibly realistic-feeling tour de force. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take him another eight years to make his next feature.
Take a Drink: whenever an argument about land or history breaks out
Take a Drink: anytime someone buys or sells something
Take a Drink: whenever you see that crazy horsetruckbus
Do a Shot: anytime the kids do something during “house arrest” that makes you wonder where the hell Mom went