Monday, February 21, 2011

Albania Blood Movie, "The Forgiveness of Blood" Wins Silver Bear at Berlinale

Joshua Marston’s drama about two young people caught in a blood feud in Albania’s rural north has won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival.

"The Forgiveness of Blood," a drama written by Albanian-born, New York-based scriptwriter Andamion Murataj, tells the story of a family trapped in a cycle of vengeance.

Like in his celebrated 2004 movie Maria Full of Grace, Marston used both unknown actors and professionals for the Forgiveness of Blood.

The two main characters are played by 18-year-old Tristian Halilaj and 15-year-old Sindi Lacej, who had no previous acting experience.

The lead actress in Maria Full of Grace, Catalina Sandino Moreno, who had only a few acting classes to her name before the film, was nominated for an Academy Award.

The film is a familiar tale of territorial rights and family honor but it is told well and the film features appealingly natural performances by non-professionals. It could reach beyond festivals in certain territories, particularly those that have populations with a Balkan heritage.

In the rural north of the formerly communist nation, bread is still delivered by horse and cart but every teenager has a mobile phone. The police have modern vehicles and weapons but elders dish out justice according to the 15th-century Balkan code known as the Kanun.

A conflict over the right of way on one family's land leads to anger and violence. When a man dies, there is no way to avoid a blood feud. Marston and Albania-born screenwriter Andamion Murataj have fashioned an absorbing tale about the impact of such old-fashioned rules, especially on the younger generation.

The director has a good eye and British cinematographer Rob Hardy ("Boy A," "Red Riding") captures shrewdly the many contrasts of ancient and modern in tools, buildings and terrain.

Refet Abazi plays Mark, a delivery man whose daily route with horse and cart has taken him across trails used since his grandfather owned much of the land. But a temperamental man named Sokol (Veton Osmani) now owns the land and he places rocks on the ground to block Mark's way.

When Sokol insults him and his family in the presence of his teenaged daughter Rudina (Sindi Lacej), Mark returns with his brother Zef (Luan Jaha) to set things right. The encounter occurs offscreen but soon Zokol is dead, Zev is in prison, and Mark is in hiding.

A blood feud is declared that means Mark's teenaged son Nik (Tristan Halilaj) and his little brother cannot leave the house in fear of retribution. Nik, who has ambitions of opening an Internet cafe once he graduates and has a school sweetheart, Bardha (Zana Hasaj), chafes under incarceration. However, Rudina thrives in her new duties driving the horse and cart to deliver bread and other goods.

Marston sets a level of increased tension as Sokol's family make further threats and attempt to intimidate Rudina while Nik risks his life to sneak out at night to see his girlfriend. Loyalties become strained as the youngsters begin to challenge what they see as the stubborn futility of the old ways.

The contrasts between unspoiled countryside and urban development and the clash between rural intransigence and youthful impatience add depth to an accomplished and suspenseful drama.


Anonymous said...

By Mike Collett-White
BERLIN (Reuters) - "The Forgiveness of Blood" is a new film exploring centuries-old oral traditions that govern how some families in Albania settle their blood feuds to this day.

Modern clashes with medieval in U.S. director Joshua Marston's powerful movie, which has its premiere at the Berlin film festival on Friday.

It is the last of 16 competition films to be screened at the annual cinema showcase, and early critical reaction suggests it could be in the running for awards at the festival's closing ceremony on Saturday.

The Forgiveness of Blood centres on a family living in rural Albania which is drawn into a dispute with a nearby clan over access to land.

When the feud ends in murder, the aggrieved party imposes the harsh rules of the Kanun, a 15th century Balkan code that gives it the right to kill a male member of the offending family in retribution.

Rather than a simple eye-for-an-eye, other rules can be applied through the code which is not officially recognized in Albanian law, according to the filmmakers, but which has been imposed nonetheless.

At the center of the feud governed by adults' anger, pride, ignorance and intransigence is Nik, a 17-year-old who is no longer allowed to leave home for fear of being killed, his seven-year-old brother and Rudina, his 15-year-old sister.

Rudina is allowed out, and turns adversity into opportunity by finding extra sources of income as she seeks to support the family single-handed. But for Nik life becomes a nightmare, as opportunities for friendship, love and success pass him by.

"For me it's a story about a conflict between generations and a conflict between the old and the new," Marston told reporters in Berlin after a press screening.

The director, whose 2004 debut feature was the acclaimed "Maria Full of Grace," said the key image for him was of a 21st century boy sending text messages and playing video games in captivity in his home thanks to 15th century rules.

"He's a modern boy who's had his life disrupted by something completely old."

Marston traveled to Albania with Albanian scriptwriter and guide Andamion Murataj to research the Kanun, meeting families locked in such feuds and living in isolation.

One family was stuck in a blood feud for 15 years, the sons had never gone to school and did not dare venture further than their front yard.

The practice of Kanun virtually disappeared under Communism, which moved to stamp it out, but it has returned as Albania struggles to emerge as a modern and prosperous democracy.

Actor Refet Abazi, who plays the father on the run, said the film had an important message of the need for forgiveness.

"The Kanun still exists in Albania," he said, speaking through an interpreter. "It is somewhere in people's minds.

"The film must get us to think about the Kanun, how to deal with it and to ask questions. Nik belongs to a completely different generation ... and this is the generation that we must look at and the generation that must slowly forget the Kanun."
Marston said that the long seven-year gap between his two feature films had been partly the result of the financial crisis, which saw potential funding withdrawn and dissuaded producers from backing movies about tough subjects.

(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)

Anonymous said...

Blood feuds have been part of Northern Albania for centuries; this ill-minded societal disease, has impeded Malesia e Madhe to advance. For now on, hopefully, we will see these vendettas only on these movies.

Anonymous said...

This has impeded Albania's development more so than Malesia mbi Shkodres. I know a family that remains tangled in a 65-year blood feud in Kukes.

This is primitive, and a film like this one illustrates how barbaric these "Kanun" acts are.

To think that Albanians in 2011 still engage in these acts is monsterous. How can/will the EU allow entrance to a state that continues to defy the rule of law and take matters into their own hands viza vis the tribal way?

Anonymous said...

By the way, this is the best map of Montenegro I've seen for quite some time. Very accurate depiction indeed.