The director of Maria Full of Grace returns with this riveting, minor-key blood revenge drama.
Coming across like a Eastern European social realist refit of George Romero's Night of the Living Dead, Joshua Marston's belated feature follow-up to his simmering dope mule drama, Maria Full of Grace, plays on fears of the unknown that lurk right outside our front door.
The Forgiveness of Blood charts a spiralling blood feud in the unforgiving scrublands of rural Albania, as a macho patriarch loses his shit when denied access to a shortcut across land owned by his fore-fathers.
The dispute erupts from some idle banter in a local bar, and before too soon, one man is dead, and the other is on the run. Not that you actually see what happens: Marston chooses to keep this altercation and any mention of details pertaining to it off the screen at all time.
The film then shifts to monitoring the lives of lanky social climber, Nik (Tristan Halilaj) and his younger, more pensive sister, Rudina (Sindi Laçej), as they are forced to deal with the fallout of there father's (alleged) violent outburst.
And that fallout is strictly dictated by ancient local custom, where the immediate family of an on-the-run criminal must remain confined to their house until the suspected man returns and can be judged. One want hand, Marston's film excels in its clammy, claustrophobic depiction of the experience of being imprisoned for reasons you're unable to fathom. Frustration turns to boredom turns to desperation turns to anger, as both Nik and Rudina find it extremely tough to deal with being ostracised from their tight-knit community.
Nik, now lacking a strong father figure, adopts the role of guardian to his little brother, and he manages (in a fashion) to keep a burgeoning romantic relationship going with the help of a camera phone. Rudina, on the other hand, finds it tough to keep the family business links in tact, as she is allowed to amble across the hillsides in their ramshackle cart to sell bread and untaxed cigarettes.
The Forgiveness of Blood offers a fluid, minor key study in boredom, rejection and what it means to be in prison, as while the family initially accept their fate – Nik even builds a ramshackle concrete gym in the back yard – it's not long before their blithe acceptance of this informal incarceration has stoked the rage of unseen locals who begin to take potshots at the house and take brutal measures to sabotage their threadbare livelihood.
Marston slinks in to this mysterious community with cat-like agility (the result of much pre-production research), and he manages to elicit a sense of underlying drama while simultaneously not forcing out a story that feels detached from the land in which he is filming. Though Tristan Halilaj is strong as the conflicted Nik, the real star of the film is Sindi Laçej.
In her desperate attempts to retain a sense of familial normalcy while doing everything she can to preserve her family, her subtly taciturn performance as Rudina calling to mind a similarly calibrated turn from Belgian actress Émilie Dequenne in the Dardenne brother's masterpiece, Rosetta. High praise indeed.
It's been a long, long time since Joshua Marston's lat film, Maria Full of Grace.
Subtle and finely-wrought filmmaking with some great performances.
Sticks with you, even though the ending is not entirely satisfying.