The Forgiveness of Blood, Joshua Marston’s follow-up to 2004’s award-winning Maria Full of Grace, tells the story of an Albanian family under house arrest in the midst of a feud with another family. It isn’t as interesting as it sounds.
The main family delivers bread for money. To do so quickly, they make use of a road that runs through a large property they used to own. The land’s new owners would prefer they go around the property instead of through it and put up a fence.
In response, the trespassing family’s father and uncle return there and stab the fence-maker to death. The uncle is sent to prison, but the father goes into hiding. This sparks the feud, as the mourning family requires a male’s blood if the offender is not properly punished.
Rudina, the main family’s oldest sister, is forced to take on the bread delivery business despite her love of school, as males cannot leave the home because they fear getting killed by the neighbours in retribution for the uncle’s crime. Nik, the oldest brother, mopes around and pines over the girl he likes.
Rudina’s story is the most compelling, but there isn’t enough of it. The audience sees her bargain for cartons of cigarettes to start a side business, despite warnings that selling cigarettes is dangerous. But neither the danger nor her success or failure is shown afterward.
For a movie about feuds, there isn’t much feuding. Marston chooses to leave any violence and most direct conflict off camera. Without witnessing any of it, the audience can easily trivialize the supposed danger waiting outside. The film itself discredits the danger and allows Nik to sneak out of his house on more than one occasion without consequences.
The largest problem is the lack of exposition concerning the rules of the feud. Older characters make multiple references to the “Kanun” and to “Besa” without offering the audience a clear explanation as to what they are. This can be dangerous, as confusion easily disconnects a viewer from the experience.
There was ample opportunity in the 109-minute film to resolve this. Dren, the youngest brother, does not ask any questions. It is unconvincing that a five-year-old child would remain locked inside a house without wondering why. Maybe silent obedience is part of the culture, but that is also left unclear.
Despite its contextual flaws, the film is still watchable. An indeterminate amount of time passes during the quick cuts between quiet scenes of the family going about their business, which helps make the movie feel more like watching moments of their real lives than a script. Thanks mostly to the gorgeous Albanian countryside, the film includes plenty of beautiful organic shots in warm colours with lots of natural light.
Overall, The Forgiveness of Blood lacks the information necessary to make it a social commentary film, but also lacks the conflict to make it a family drama. Not very much happens, and with such a compelling central idea, the audience is left wondering why Marston chose to tell it this way.
The Forgiveness of Blood comes out April 6 at AMC.