Review: The Forgiveness of Blood (2011)

The Forgiveness of Blood (2011)

Directed by: Joshua Marston | 109 minutes | drama | Actors: Tristan Halilaj, Sindi Lacej, Refet Abazi, Ilire Vinca Celaj, Cun Lajci

“An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” – that is how the old Albanian code of the Kanun can also be described. According to the Kanun’s code, if a man is deeply offended, he may kill the person in question. The consequence of this is that the victim’s family may retaliate by murdering someone of the same sex. Until revenge is taken, people are expected not to show themselves in public so as not to hurt the grieving family even more. Although not an official law, the Kanun is widely enforced in Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro. In these areas there are still many families who are under house arrest because of the Kanun. It is therefore not surprising that this code plays a very important role in the Albanian film ‘The Forgiveness of Blood’. With this film, director Joshua Marston (known for ‘Maria Full of Grace’ and ‘New York I Love You’) wants to give a better insight into the consequences that the Kanun can have on an ordinary family.

‘The Forgiveness of Blood’ tells the story of two Albanian teenagers, Rudina (Sindi Lacej) and Nik (Tristan Halilaj). They come from an average Albanian family who can barely make ends meet with hard work. When fairly early in the story their father and their uncle kill a fellow villager after an argument over a plot of land, the code of the Kanun is applied to their family. As a result, Nik and his younger brother are no longer allowed to leave the house, because otherwise their lives will be in danger. Rudina has to drop out of school and take over the job of her father, who has fled after the murder, because otherwise there will be no more money coming in. What immediately stands out when the film starts is the calm, a bit sad atmosphere that hangs continuously and doesn’t go away. In addition, the film is set in a small village where not too much happens, which certainly contributes to the peaceful atmosphere.

Although the murder takes place quickly in the story and is definitely the key moment of the film, it was chosen not to portray it. Instead, the focus is much more on the development Rudina and Nik go through next. Even though neither of them are professional actors and it is their first film, this does not show in their performances. Tristan Halilaj plays a strong character and you can clearly see him getting more and more frustrated with the permanent house arrest he is given. He can no longer enjoy his childhood. Halilaj knows how to convey the emotions of a frustrated teenager. Yet it is Sindi Lacej who steals the show with a much more somber and more subdued role. Every time you see her as an innocent and shy girl riding a horse and carriage through the streets, you feel for her and hope that nothing happens to her. During the film you see her clearly changing into an enterprising girl with guts. Every now and then you wish she’d laugh a little more often. Now there is hardly any laughter in this film anyway, the whole sometimes feels very gloomy. Especially the desolate Albanian setting in which the story takes place contributes to this.

Although the pace of the film is quite slow and there is not too much action, this is not really disturbing. The film gives you the feeling that something could happen at any moment. In addition, it is a good representation of the suffering that the ancient code of the Kanun can still cause within families to this day. It shows how even a simple, innocent family can fall apart because of the Kanun and how the innocent children become victims of this. In that respect, the director has succeeded in his goal. Especially the conflicts later in the film between Nik, who starts to see his family more and more as an enemy, and the rest of the family are very interesting. ‘The Forgiveness of Blood’ is definitely worth checking out.

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