The notion of blood feuds has been an international institution for centuries, but the implementation of said feuds in various cultures is what gives Joshua Marston’s The Forgiveness of Blood its narrative conflict. A wonderfully subtle film that takes the notion of blood feuds and cuts open its implications for varying generations, The Forgiveness of Blood hits home with a decided impact. Having two of its three principal parts being played by non-actors gives the film even more of an edge and makes it even more impressive.
The Forgiveness of Blood (Blu-ray)
Directed by Joshua Marston
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 109 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Albanian
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: October 16, 2012
Review Date: October 12, 2012
When high school senior Nik’s (Tristan Halilaj) father (Refet Abazi) and uncle (Luan Jaha) are involved in a killing over a land dispute with Sokol (Veton Osmani), Nik, his younger sister Rudina (Sindi Lacej), and the rest of the family must live in their home in seclusion, not venturing out for fear of retaliation by the injured family. Uncle Zef is already in prison (he committed the killing), but Nik’s father Mark who held Sokol while he was being stabbed has fled the district and is a wanted man. At first, Nik supports his dad’s actions and decision, but as the weeks of isolation stretch on and he loses contact with his girl friend and school friends, Nik gets more and more restless. Rudina has had to also quit school and take up her father’s bread delivery route (girls are not under the same sanctions during blood feuds). Various arbitrators get nowhere in settling the feud, and Nik is at the end of his rope in wanting to separate himself from the old customs and begin living his life again.
The combination of this slice-of-life look at Albanian culture mixed with the widening generation gap between the parents’ generation and that of their children is what gives the script by director Joshua Marston and co-writer Andamion Murataj its power. Exactly why should these children innocent of all connection to the events that precipitated the feud be held accountable for the actions of their relatives? The writers provide no answers, but the conundrum is a fascinating one. Marston stages some wonderfully edgy and upsetting scenes as Nik prowls around his house like a caged tiger (he picks hyperactively at his plaster bedroom wall in frustration) and occasionally summons up enough nerve to venture out on the unfinished second floor of the house or in the front yard and even hops the fence and goes to meet girl friend Bardha (Zana Hasaj) when he gets vibes that he’s losing her. Those moments of rebellion are rather terrifying since shots from enemies could ring out at any time, and even their stable is set ablaze by their foes in one shocking scene. The father with his horse-drawn bread cart and the kids with their cell phone and interest in Facebook couldn’t be more generationally severed, and these touches which constantly keep the family members butting heads with one another (not to mention with the rival family) keeps things tense and interesting.
Tristan Halilaj may have been a novice actor when he was cast, but he gives a touching and rather expert performance with its mixture of physicality and histrionics. Sindi Lacej is no less adept as her character Rudina must become the family breadwinner taking over her father’s work with no prior experience at age fifteen. As the movie runs, she shows an enterprising spirit as she begins to make additional money selling cigarettes always trying to barter the best price from the distributors and find ways to increase her profits, the kind of business acumen that under normal circumstances you know her character would never have been allowed to even think about participating in. As the father tied to the old traditions and expecting absolute support from all members of the family, Refet Abazi is assured and impressive.
The film’s 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully delivered in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Shot on Super 16mm, the image is never crisp apart from a climactic scene between Nik and his enemies that looks like it came from a different film with utter clarity, sharpness, and superb color. The rest of the film is about average or a little better in sharpness and colors are decently saturated. Black levels are a little milky, and shadow detail can be murky at times. The white English subtitles are very easy to read. The film has been divided into 18 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix betrays its indie roots with a very subdued amount of ambiance in the spread through the channels. Dialogue has been well recorded and appears in the center channel, and the music by Jacobo Lieberman and Leonardo Heiblum gets most of the attention in the mix with a decent soundstage treatment.
The audio commentary is by director Joshua Marston who talks with fervor and interest in his entire experience of making the film about a cultural tradition he knew little about until he began doing research. Fans of the film will find his remarks vital to extending their appreciation of the movie and its themes.
All of the featurettes are presented in 1080p unless otherwise noted.
“Truth on the Ground” is a 17 ¾-minute discussion tracing the film’s origins and production by producer Paul Mezey. He praises the director and their working relationship over the six month production schedule along with sending warm thanks to the film’s production designer and cameraman. The featurette also features interviews with Tristan Halilaj, Refet Abazi, and Sindi Lacej.
“Acting Close to Home” is a 23 ½-minute sit down discussion between director Joshua Marston and his three stars Tristan Halilaj, Refet Abazi, and Sindi Lacej as they talk about their memories of working on the project. They talk about their auditions, the improvisations held to help the writers create a family atmosphere, and their techniques for getting into character.
9 ½ minutes of audition footage featuring Sindi Lacej and Tristan Halilaj along with two improvised scenes is presented in 1080i.
We see 10 ¼-minutes of rehearsals with the stars working their way through the climactic confrontation scene when Mark comes home from prison.
The theatrical trailer runs 2 ½ minutes.
The enclosed 18-page booklet contains cast and crew lists, some color stills from the movie, and doctorial candidate in cinema studies Oscar Moralde’s appreciation of the movie.
The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentary that goes along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
4/5 (not an average)
The Forgiveness of Blood takes the subject of blood feuds among adults and shows its effects on the younger generation in a gently haunting family drama of great power. The extras on the Blu-ray disc are also extremely helpful in pointing out aspects of the film that might have been missed by Western audiences. Recommended!