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Josh Marston's THE FORGIVENESS OF BLOOD

I’ve been on the festival circuit recently (with my co-directed project SMALL, BEAUTIFULLY MOVING PARTS) and was lucky enough to see the Berlin world premiere and Chicago winner THE FORGIVENESS OF BLOOD. It recently made headlines when it was yanked it from Foreign Oscar competition for not being Albanian enough (read Anthony Kaufman’s story here), though the film itself is about a distinctly Albanian issue: the clash of modernity and time-worn cultural customs, this one being medieval blood feuds – rifts between families that can lead to the permanent threat of violence for men, prompting a form of vigilante house arrest that leaves the women and girls to become surrogate bread winners.

Marston, originally from Southern California, initially became intrigued when he read a news article about the phenomenon and began to do his research, boots on the ground. Unafraid of placing himself in cultures different from his own (see his debut feature, MARIA FULL OF GRACE), Marston boldly crafted a story with co-writer Andamion Murataj that dramatizes the futility of a feud from a teenager’s perspective – protagonist Nik (Tristan Halilaj), who just wants to be with his friends at school. Instead, he’s forced to grow up pretty quickly as the tension increases between his family and the neighbors, who his father and uncle attacked, claiming self-defense.

The law here works on a few levels. Nik’s father is in prison, but there are additional bars, the ones dictated by the grieving family that takes Nik from his beloved school and classmates. He, of course, rebels against this, and things only get more complicated. Marston explores the problems of these men, but doesn’t neglect the experiences of the women. In what is perhaps the best closing shot of the season, Marston asks us to contemplate the future of a conflict by understanding the best possible hope for recovery: the younger ones, and not necessarily the males. His focus on the nuances of small, familial interactions complement the more sweeping, larger drama, creating tension between the monotony of daily life and the crush of a curse that has no end in sight. Look for this Sundance Selects release next year.

–AH