DVD Review - The Forgiveness of Blood

This film reminded me of A Separation because both are award-winning foreign films that pivot around a legal dispute that is seemingly or in reality very esoteric. In this film, that legal dispute involves the Albanian tradition of Kanun. It's described as a blood feud, but there's no history or origin story or provenance provided.

In the 21st century, it's something we're supposed to accept in a civilized society. Not to say that it's untrue or one can't suspend disbelief, but there's no dimension to it. Kanun is a fact of life in Albania, and not just for gangsters but for simple farmers.

At least, in A Separation, the incident that sparks the legal dispute is depicted. Here, director and co-writer Joshua Marston doesn't show it. He keeps it off screen, which is both a positive and a negative. It worked so well in A Separation that it could have also worked here. Not depicting the incident gives it more ambiguity and the conflict gets to a point where the incident wasn't something I missed in the end.

Nevertheless, it would have helped to clarify some things, particularly the motives of the father. Tristan Halilaj stars as Nik, a teenage boy in rural Albania whose life is upended when his father and his uncle are allegedly attacked by a rival farmer and that rival farmer ends up dead.

The family of the dead farmer blames Nik's father and uncle. The uncle is immediately arrested and sentenced to prison, but Nik's father goes in hiding. The family of the dead farmer invoke the Kanun, so until Nik's father is punished, they vow to kill any male person on the other side, which includes Nik and his little brother Dren.

What becomes immediately apparent is that the father remaining in hiding means his two sons' lives are in danger. Nik's father visits in secret in the night every now and then. Nik and Dren have to be confined to the house as per a Kanun rule. This cuts Nik off from his friends, his girlfriend and school. He's only able to lie around the house and slowly go mad. Dren is similarly affected, yet their father doesn't care.

When Nik asks his father to turn himself over to the police, his father refuses angrily. Without depicting the incident or anything that Nik's father experiences after that, his motives are distant to us. Therefore, for a father to refuse his son who is clearly in danger and scared is confusing and frustrating.

This puts us perfectly in the shoes of Nik who is certainly confused and frustrated. These are shared emotions of all the young people here. Marston seems content on only conveying these emotions and nothing more. Yes, we're given a realistic tableau. The opening shot looks as if it's an oil painting, but I don't think I have a better understanding of the culture or the prevalence of this practice.

Two Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but recommended for 14 and up.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 49 mins.


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