The Forgiveness of Blood: movie review

In 'The Forgiveness of Blood,' a medieval code of retribution pulls a modern-day Albanian town back into the Middle Ages. 

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    Tristan Halilaj (l.) stars as Nik, an Albanian teen trapped by a fatal feudal dispute, in ‘The Forgiveness of Blood.’
    IFC Films
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"The Forgiveness of Blood" is set in present-day northern Albania, but this drama about a blood feud between families could just as easily have taken place centuries earlier. The correspondence between the new and the ancient is what gives the film its resonance.

Nik (Tristan Halilaj) is a gangly, small-town teenager who wants to start his own Internet cafe and fancies the school beauty (Zana Hasaj). Then his father, Mark (Refet Abazi), gets into a land dispute with the pugnacious Sokol (Veton Osmani) and everything in the life of Nik's family is overturned. Sokol is stabbed to death, Nik's uncle is imprisoned, and Mark goes into hiding. According to a 15th-century code of law called the Kanun, still observed today, the injured party can take the life of a male from Nik's family as retribution, or seek outside mediation. Sokol's clan is not the outside mediation type.

The film's director, Joshua Marston, is American, but, as in his previous film, "Maria Full of Grace," about a Colombian girl who accepts a job as a drug smuggler, he does a commendable job of immersing himself in a foreign culture. He is no doubt im-measurably aided here by his Albanian co-screenwriter Andamion Murataj, who also acted as coproducer and helped cast the film with a group of mostly nonactors. The expressiveness of the faces of these amateurs has an authenticity that sometimes eludes the film itself, which is somewhat inert as drama and reminiscent of other movies about warring clans. The pent-up situation of Nik's family keeps grinding the action, such as it is, to a halt.

Still, the film stays with one. My favorite character is not Nik but his 15-year-old sister, Rudina (Sindi Lacej), who takes over her father's bread delivery route in his rickety wagon and makes a go of it against all odds. Her pluck seems both Old World and New World. Grade: B+ (Unrated.)


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