In Albania, family feuds run deep. Putting the Hatfields and McCoys to shame, unwritten Albanian law requires blood payment if one family wrongs another. Of course, the family accused of wrong-doing doesn't want to give up a family member's life to solve the problem so they choose secluded house arrest instead. Or in the case of the family in 'Forgiveness of Blood,' it is forced upon them.
Not much information about the implied laws of Albanian society is included. Instead, we have to glean what we can from scattered conversations of village elders as they discuss what must be done according to outdated customs. Mark (Refet Abazi) is the family's bread-winner, literally. He sells bread every morning from his makeshift horse-drawn cart. Even though Mark rides around in a cart pulled by his trusty horse, this is indeed set in modern times where Albanian teenagers speak about mobile phones and Facebooking.
Mark soon becomes enraged by his neighbor Sokol who has blocked an access road. The road lies on Sokol's land, but Mark routinely uses it to get to his out-of-town deliveries. When Sokol won't remove the roadblock... things get ugly. We never see the skirmish that takes place. Keeping us away from that is a smart move by director Joshua Marston because it allows us to see the rest of the movie without much, if any, prejudice. We soon find out that the scuffle ends with Mark killing Sokol. He claims self-defense, but the other family doesn't see it that way. The feud has been started and an age-old practice is about to rear its ugly head.
Mark is forced to flee the town while his family is left to fend for themselves. Even though Mark was the sole one responsible, the family bears the brunt of the societal tradition. They're forcefully confined to their home. If the men leave they'll be killed.
It's a backwards, twisted way of dealing with a feud. The problem with the movie is we're never really given much to go on. We follow around Nik, a hapless Albanian teenager who wants to play video games and open up an Internet café. He lives in the modern world, but he's soon thrust into a life he detests simply because his father's fathers passed down this ridiculous tradition.
The meat of the film, where the real genuine emotion comes from, is the way Nik deals with this problem. Although, it's hard to believe that any family could stay under house arrest for so long if it wasn't imposed by some governmental force. We're simply not privy to why this tradition is so important or why it works so well. It's really hard to feel for the family because you spend most of the time wondering how a situation like this is even possible.
While Marston does a good job making us care for Nik, the rest of the characters seem to get lost in the muddled story that labors over the same points. Yes these people are stubborn and stuck in their ways, but why should we care? Why should we root for Mark to come back to his family when his self-imposed exile seems so selfish to begin with? Where are the police, the courts, the lawyers? Traditions run deep, but does this society not have a working justice system that could get to the bottom of this whole thing without people taking the law into their own hands? How does a modern-day judicial system allow for community-enforced home imprisonment? I don't know the answers to these questions, but I do know I felt ambivalent at the end. I never really cared for anyone but Nik in this movie and still his resolution seems more like a cop-out than a conclusion.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a Criterion release. It comes in the standard clear Criterion keepcase. The case says that this is a director-approved edition. Inside is an 18-page booklet that includes still photographs, information about the transfer and sound, and an essay entitled "How Things Work" by Oscar Moralde of Slant Magazine. The spine number is 628. The movie is pressed onto a 50GB Blu-ray Disc and is coded for Region A use.
'Forgiveness of Blood' was shot on Super 16mm and you can tell. Even though the movie was recently filmed, the choice of Super 16mm sorely degrades much of the detail that could've been there. Most scenes are fairly dark and light on detail. A thick haze covers the picture, obscuring edges and fine detail. It's true that this is the director's intent, but it doesn't look as crisp as other recently filmed Super 16mm movies, like 'Moonrise Kingdom' for example.
Shadows are dreadfully unforgiving as they crush much of the detail in darkened interiors and nighttime scenes. Clarity is hard to come by in mid-range shots. Color is dampened, but considering the dour surroundings of the village it's no mystery as to why the color palette is so grim. Full of dull greens, muddy browns, and depressing grays. While it does reflect the director's vision and it has been okayed by him, it fails to wow throughout the movie.
This is a pretty straight-forward DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. No frills or gimmicks. The dialogue up front is clear and easily heard. Sound effects, like the clomping of horse hooves or the creaking of Mark's cart, are nicely rendered. Rear channels seem a bit subdued, though. Whenever the scene is inside Mark's rickety cart, the squeaks and creaks are nicely caught by the rear speakers. Otherwise the rear channels remain quiet. LFE is very light as there really aren't many instances where it's needed, other than a scene where there's a large fire. Like the video presentation, the audio is serviceable but doesn't really impress.
I never really got into 'Forgiveness of Blood.' I felt too detached from the characters and couldn't help but think how preposterous their situation seemed. The story never grabbed me and I found myself caring about no one, except Nik. It felt like an under developed idea that never really found its footing. The video and audio are solid, but not as breathtaking as many Criterion releases are. This one is for Criterion collectors only.