There’s no point in denying it. Foreign customs, practices and laws are seen as odd to a typical American. They generally don’t reflect our own and it’s easy to write them off as archaic and nonsensical. The predicament a family struggles to live through in the Albanian film, The Forgiveness of Blood, is a good example of that. After the father of one family kills a member of another over a dispute over who is the rightful owner of a piece of land, the grieving family has the right to take the life of a male in the offender’s family as retribution. Such a thing happening in the United States would go against every moral code our country stands upon, but it’s a common practice when an event like this occurs in Albania. While it’s hard to get past the justification of such a cruel practice, it nevertheless allows for a gripping, tense, wonderful little drama that isn’t to be missed.
This blood feud would seem to have a fairly simple resolution—kill the father who killed the man—but when he goes into hiding, the only two males left in the family are Dren (Elsajed Tallalli), who is far too young to be a mark, and Nik (Tristan Halilaj), the oldest son, thus making him the primary target. Nik is a carefree kid. He goes to school, he plays soccer, he rides around with his best buddy and he has a crush on one of his beautiful young classmates who is reciprocating his feelings. He has done nothing wrong, but his life is at stake due to his father’s petty and selfish actions. While the film does hint that his dad may not have actually killed the victim in haste, but rather defended himself from an oncoming attack, the situation remains the same.
There are some rules to these blood conflicts, however, which allow safety to the family of the perpetrator. The victim’s family can only attack if the target leaves their home, so Nik is essentially under house arrest, shut off from the rest of the world. He stops going to school, his buddy only stops by periodically and his school crush communicates mostly through video messages on her cell phone. Nik’s life is at a standstill for something he had no control over, an unfair situation if there ever was one. He becomes unhappy and starts sneaking out of the house at night just to feel a bit of freedom, even though he knows he’s putting his life on the line when doing so. When his father emerges from hiding to be with his family, Nik understandably wants him to turn himself in so this senseless feud can end and he can go back to his normal life, an idea his father strikes down as selfish. Perhaps their customs dictate such a request as selfishness, but viewers will sympathize with Nik and by this point, if you haven’t already decided to be against him, the father becomes an evil entity, himself selfishly weighing his family down by forcing them to live in constant fear and danger.
This conflict isn’t only affecting the men in the household, however. Because of their inability to leave the house, the women must take the reins and do what needs to be done to make a living. Nik’s sister, Rudina (Sindi Lacej), is a grade A student. She wants to be in school and loves learning, which is most notable in a scene where she comes home one day and enthusiastically details the ins and outs of sea sponges to her father, clearly fascinated by their eccentricities. She’s a smart girl who wants to make something of herself. Unfortunately, she now has to hop in the horse drawn carriage and ride about town selling bread to ensure her family has their own food on the table, which effectively forces her to stop attending school.
Each character in the film loves and appreciates their family, but also has their own mapped out life plans. They have minds of their own and that’s why the drama works. They feel real. The Forgiveness of Blood takes richly drawn characters, gives them some wonderful dialogue to recite and places them in a hard hitting, emotional narrative that could end in a number of different ways. It’s one of those rare movies that you know is great as soon as you reach the credits, but the more you think about it afterwards, the more brilliant it becomes.
The Forgiveness of Blood receives 4.5/5