The Forgiveness of Blood: A Different Kind of Teen Angst
The Forgiveness of Blood, director Joshua Marston’s powerful follow up to his Academy Award nominated first feature film, Maria Full of Grace. It is a compelling drama about teenagers in rural Albania who are expected by family, forced by circumstances and pressured by tradition, to partake in a long standing blood feud. Family honor and patriarchal authority clash with youthful independence in the story of a young man who strives to maintain his heritage while longing for a more westernized life that exists beyond the borders of his world.
Once again, Marston takes his audience to a world foreign to most American audiences and the result is truly inspiring. Although he story of The Forgiveness of Blood takes place in a foreign country, it doesn’t affect its overall appeal, and should not dissuade anyone from seeing the film. It fact the story is so immersive, once it gets going you forget you’re reading subtitles. The main character, Nik (non-professional, Albanian native Tristan Halilaj) is just like any other high school boy. He’s a popular guy who goofs off with his best friend and has a crush on a pretty girl. His one great ambition is to turn an abandoned shop into an Internet café where he and his friends can hang out and be connected to the modern world.
However, Nik’s idealized dream of a westernized lifestyle comes to an end when his father becomes an accessory to murder. Based on ancient Albanian cultural laws Nik, as the next eldest male, is the prime target for retaliation. For safety sake he and his grade school brother are confined to the house. Even Nik’s slightly younger sister, Rudina (another tremendous local find, Sindi Lacej) is effected when forced to leave the school she loves in order to take over the family business of delivering bread. As the film so deftly depicts it, so goes life in Albania. Sometimes children are forced to grow up over night and no one thinks twice about it.
Now, obviously there are countless cases in America where teens are forced to give up their childhood existences in order to aid their families, but that’s exactly the point. What I particularly love about The Forgiveness of Blood (and I really love this film) is the immediate accessibility of the story regardless of language or region of origin. Marston and co-writer Andamion Murataj boldly tell their well-written tale in a bare and straightforward manner. Because of the universally understood conflicts facing all teenagers, there is no need for heightened melodrama, and fortunately the filmmakers do not submit to that temptation. There are no subplots of Nik’s classmates organizing a political descent, nor is there an attempt to transform his innocent puppy love into a variation of Romeo and Juliet.
Instead, Marston and company faithfully trust that US audiences (and others elsewhere) will relate to a young man’s struggle to become his own person while being forced to comply with the wishes of his elders. However, unlike James Dean’s character in Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause, Nik’s situation has far more dire consequences than being grounded; if he disobeys he could be killed and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. Of course Nik becomes frustrated and lashes out at his siblings as well as his mother who tries to get him to understand that he is no longer a child and must face his responsibilities as a young adult. And that is what this film is ultimately about: the responsibility of being a part of a family and how the dynamics of one can change drastically when under traumatic influences.
There is one particularly astonishing scene that dramatizes this point and obliges me to encourage all parents to see this film with their teenage children. It’s a moment late in the conflict that shows the relationship between Nik and his parents at its absolute worst and best at the same time. Nik’s father (the amazing Refet Abazi) sneaks out of hiding in order to see his beloved family. Because of heightened emotions, what should be a happy reunion quickly turns into a heated altercation typical of most parent/child relationships. It is truly one of the most beautifully touching and heartbreaking depictions of a father’s anguish ever produced on screen, and something every teen should see if only to get a slight understanding of what it means to be a parent.
As a result of his father’s selfless sacrifice, Nik abandon’s his childish ways, and truly grows up. He decides to face the situation like a man and attempts to resolve the blood feud himself with mixed results. The conflict has ended, but not the way anyone had anticipated, which is the perfect ending to a film involving teens. After all, not everything has a happy ending, let alone one that can be easily defined. The conclusion is purposely vague (in its way), which gives The Forgiveness of Blood a refreshing dose of reality missing from most American films of the same vain, and will undoubtedly leave an impression upon the viewer regardless of age, culture, or nation of origin.