The Forgiveness of Blood is a film that is about a modern day feud between two families in Albania. The film starts off with what is seemingly a small incident: there is a line of rocks on a road; a man Mark (Refet Abazi) needs access to it to make his bread route shorter. He moves the rocks and with that commences the argument that escalates into a feud, as the road isn’t public and the owner permits no one to use it. Exacerbating this issue is that the families have a history and that land used to be in Mark’s family.
That’s the set-up as the fighting starts, but the film refuses to be about the main combatants but rather about those caught in the crossfire and in a sense about feuding itself. The film has two young leads Nik (Tristan Halilaj) and Rudina (Sindi Lacej) that have to bear much of the brunt of the fallout from this incident.
Now, this is a film wherein there are some idiosyncrasies and details of feuding in this society are implied but are not specifically explained. For example, there is reference to a book (Kanun) wherein the rules of combat per se are laid out, and there is also a special permission to leave the house to attend school for those old enough to be targeted (Besa), however, while these things are not clear upon their initial introduction they are soon made to be clear.
Another thing that must be noted is that there are a few incidents that occur off-screen which is fitting with the theme of the film. The film is not about the combatants but the affected by the fighting. There is a way that the film does try to engage the audience, and that is by having Nik be a bit more idealistic. Such that he looks at things logically rather than relying on what tradition says. His protestations fall on deaf ears but it allows discussions that those who are unfamiliar with such situations to get acclimated as things are somewhat indirectly explained.
The handling of the feud causes a great deal of tension in a few ways: the opposing family whom we only meet sparingly don’t necessarily play by the rules and Mark, who has exiled himself, returns intermittently endangering his family further just to visit.
With all these stressors this creates many opportunities for drama and there are truly a number of very well acted scenes and compelling arguments. While Tristan Halilaj and Sindi Lacej exist in parallel storylines they each carry their own half of the film in very different ways. Halilaj is the brooding, rebellious teen who is seeking to affect change either in his family or in tradition or both if possible. Lacej is trying her best to learn to work and bring in extra money wherever and however possible, in a now very hostile world. Then there is Mark’s abandoned wife Bardha played very well by Zana Hasaj.
Yet the film does layer some and adds a few very important pieces to the equation to give a fuller view of the feud. The first being the younger son in the family Dren (Elsajed Tallilli) who has a fair bit of screen time and has good bonding scenes with his older brother but also struggles to adapt to things like home schooling. Then you also get a more middle-of-the-road angle from the opposing side in Mara (Servete Haxhija) who also illustrates how this is still a male-dominated society.
It’s always interesting to get a glimpse into a foreign culture in any form, especially one you are fairly unfamiliar with, however, I felt a bit of a disconnect at times simply because certain things were left to be assumed or surmised. It was something that the film overcomes but is a slightly shaky foundation. However, it is an engaging and interesting tale.