American director Joshua Marston travelled in northern Albania for a year, three months of that with his Albanian script co-writer, Andamian Murataj. He researched the 15th century Albanian rule of Kanun which says a family which loses a male member through the fault of a third party, must take revenge by murdering an adult male of the guilty family. To avoid certain death, the males of this third party must either flee or hide within their own four walls at home. Even today, in this age of mobile phones and the internet, over the last 20 years more than 20,000 males were, or still are (some for half their lives), isolated at home. There is a system of teachers hired for home-schooling; there are professional mediators who set up agreements which will satisfy the pride of the wounded party. The wounded party may grant “beza,” or short periods of freedom, which they may withdraw at will.
Besides researching Kanun, Marston secured film locations in the city of Shkodra, and interviewed more than 3,000 young students for roles, including his new stars: Tristan Halilaj and Sindi Laçej.
The Forgiveness of Blood realistically interprets Kunan. In an Albanian village Mark delivers loaves of bread to merchants with his horse and buggy and trespasses on the neighbors’ land. In an angry feud Mark and his brother kill the neighbors’ head of household. The brother is arrested and Mark flees. As long as the blood feud can not be revenged on his father, 17-year-old son Nik must also fear for his life and therefore cannot leave the home. His life comes to a standstill. The mother continues to go to work and the 15-year-old daughter Rudina takes over the bread delivery.
The film juxtaposes the fate of Nik and Rudina. He suffers frustration, isolated from his schoolmates and his new girl friend. He constructs a kind of gym on the roof of his house, in order to practice bodybuilding. She experiences a new independence, a change in her sheltered life; she rises to the occasion, even selling cigarettes on the side for added income.
The father sometimes appears in the night and soon there is a father-son conflict as Nik, desperate for a solution, argues that Mark should turn himself in for the good of the others who are suffering. Nik is the frustrated new head of the household who cannot act on his decisions. His sister, on the other hand, blossoms in her role of family bread winner. Formerly, hampered by rules which aim to protect young women from exposure and keep them domestic, she is suddenly free – as free as Nik is imprisoned.
This is truly a view into a foreign culture, although Albania is geographically not that distant and is even in the process of applying for membership in the European Union. Marston left California as a student and worked in Paris and Prague. He was always intensely interested in unfamiliar cultures, e.g., Central America, where he placed his debut film Maria full of Grace. This concerned a young girl from Colombia who, as a drug mule, flies to New York City to deliver drugs hidden within her body. This won best first film and Catalina Sanino Moreno won best actress at the 2004 Berlinale. This year Marston and Murataj together won the Silver Bear for best script. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait seven years for the next Marston film. He is exceptional.