Forgiveness of Blood: bloody unforgivable [MOVIE REVIEW]

tristan halilag
Nik (Tristan Halilag) sits on the roof in Josh Marston’s FORGIVENESS OF BLOOD. Photo by Anila Jaho. A Sundance Selects release.
tristan halilag

Nik (Tristan Halilag) sits on the roof in Josh Marston’s FORGIVENESS OF BLOOD. Photo by Anila Jaho. A Sundance Selects release.

I’d have opened a vein if it had only stopped the interminable “The Forgiveness of Blood.”

Taking place in northern Albania, a country still feudal in its societal relations, two families, long at odds over property that at one time belonged to one and was given to the other by the government (read: Communists), are predetermined to clash. When one man puts a barrier across a road through his property, a road that the whole community has used for generations, men from the rival family appear later that night to “rectify” the situation. At the end of the evening, the property owner lies dead, stabbed innumerable times, one of his rivals has been arrested and the other man, Mark, has disappeared into the night, leaving his wife, two sons and two daughters to fend for themselves in what has become a blood feud. Within the dictates of a blood feud, offending family members (Mark’s family) must barricade themselves within the home and only the women are allowed out of the house as any male member is fair game and will be murdered at the first opportunity. As it would be unfair to the male children if the girls were allowed to continue with their schooling, no one is allowed to go to school. The eldest daughter takes over the family delivery business and the tedious task of living off very little with nothing to do and nowhere to go begins.

Told primarily from the standpoint of Nik, the 18 year old son on the cusp of discovering life, James Marston, the writer/director, shows a strength in making the audience feel Nik’s isolation, loss and desolation. Kudos to Marston, the acclaimed director of “Maria Full of Grace,” as we all felt the isolation and boredom to such a degree that when the film ended, before the credits came up, there was a mad dash for the door. As one compatriot put it, “Why didn’t they just show Nik painting a wall white so we could just sit there and watch it dry?” Personally, I would have been willing to offer myself up as a sacrifice if it would only have ended.

The blood feud, like the film, was endless. At 108 minutes, the film is 60 minutes too long; so long, in fact, that I considered resurrecting the elbow measure as a gauge for my boredom (see the review for “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”), until I realized that I was unable to get anyone else to go with me (which should have been my first clue), so there was no one to elbow. Instead it can only be measured in terms of the number of times I glanced at my watch after the film had been running for sixty minutes (hint: I lost track of the number of times). So anxious was I too leave at the end that I fumbled with the door, whole heartedly believing that we had been locked in. As the man in back of me remarked, “If they show us any more like this, they’re going to have to lock the doors.”

I should stop beating a dead horse, and, by the way, the horse in the film is the only evidence that anyone has a sense of humor, no matter how obscure, because they named the horse Klinsmann – a reference to the famous German soccer player and now American National team coach. Instead there should be a brief discussion of the opportunities that this pretentious American filmmaker missed. By concentrating almost exclusively on the psychological isolation of Nik and his family, Marston chose to highlight the claustrophobia and the tacit lack of justice in punishing the innocent. This would have been a noble gesture if not for the fact that in so doing, he gave short shrift to fully illustrating the everyday, 19th century existence of a society that seems unable to enter the 20th century, let alone the 21st. Horse drawn carts still provide a primary mode of transportation for many in these villages. There is no effort to inform the audience as to why there has been so little progress over the years or if, like in the former Yugoslavia, the various political factions that divided what are now the many different countries had anything to do with either retarding progress or enabling the old feuds. As Marston allegedly spent a great deal of time studying blood feuds in Albania in preparation for writing the film, he passes off some of what he learned in throw-away scenes where the protagonists discuss how long another blood feud lasted (fifteen years) or the purpose of paid mediators. Certainly the villains of the piece are the adults who sacrifice the futures of their children over heartfelt, but ultimately petty disagreements, but in the end, because of the interminability and repetitiveness – who cares?

If the film is playing nearby, the admission is free and you need a good nap, then by all means go.

Opening Friday February 24 at the Nuart.

Neely also writes a blog about writers in television and film at nomeanerplace.com

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