In a village in modern Albania, the tough life of a poor family gets significantly tougher in The Forgiveness of Blood, a fascinating and moving new film from Joshua Marston, the American-born director of Maria Full of Grace.
As in the Oscar-nominated latter film, Marston demonstrates an inherent empathy for stories about modest people in dire straits whose lack of resources pushes them to extremes.
The film's central character is Nik, a lanky, contemporary high school student just like most, who gets crushes on girls and uses his smart phone as a flirting device. His father's sole source of income is selling bread from village to village via a horse-drawn cart but the family's routine is curtailed when an antagonistic neighbor strategically moves some rocks on his property, severing a vital short-cut that had expedited deliveries. Nik's dad makes a horrible decision in the midst of a fight with the neighbor, who ends up stabbed to death.
Nik's father goes into hiding and the town's elders put the family under what's called a kanun, a strict Albanian code of rules and consequences for rending the fabric of the community. The family is virtually imprisoned in their home but there are loopholes whereby females get more privileges than the males. Nik's headstrong older sister, Rudina, takes over the route despite new competition and the shame brought upon her family. Yet she's also shrewd and begins a side job of peddling cigarettes.
Marston's movie gives viewers a position right inside the family's home, which is sometimes claustrophobic and tense while other times abloom with family love and loyalty. His young actors are as accomplished as his older ones and it's through their eyes that we experience how complicated life can become among the humblest residents of seemingly docile towns.