The Forgiveness of Blood ends with the image of the expressionless face of a young woman. If audiences demand resolution, this does not provide it.
Is she stuck in the past or looking forward to the future? It is open to interpretation.
That's one of the film's strengths.
The Forgiveness of Blood is about the clash of two families caught in a blood feud. It's also about the growing difference between generations.
The Forgiveness of Blood is set in a rural village in Albania. The father Mark (Refet Abazi) has a family of six - a wife, two boys, and two girls. He delivers just-baked bread in a horse-drawn cart. His teenage son Nik (Tristan Halilaj) helps him, before going off to school. At school Nik has friends and is infatuated with a flirty classmate. He is a normal teenager.
But fate and a feud shatter his normal life. His father takes a shortcut over a neighbor's field, which once was property of his own family. Access is blocked by stones, but Mark moves them aside.
Eventually the neighbor stops him. This escalates into violence, and the neighbor is slain.
Tradition and the holy book Kuran demand a blood debt. A male from Mark's family has to be killed for retribution. Because of this, Mark flees, and Nik has to stay indoors at home all the time. If he goes outside, he faces a lethal response.
Because Nik can't leave the property and go to school, his sister Rudina (Sindi Lacej) also has to quit school. In a patriarchal society, if the son can't go to school, Rudina shouldn't either.
She is just a female, and although she has outstanding grades and hopes of going to university, she has to take over the delivery of bread by the horse-drawn cart by herself. [The mother is otherwise employed.]
Some people cancel delivery, but Rudina is resourceful - she also sells cigarettes that don't have tax stamps. With determination, she keeps her wits about her. Rudina is confined, but her confinement is mobile.
Nik, on the other hand, is a prisoner in his own house and his own psyche. He builds barbells and bars to exercise, watches tv, throws a ball against the wall, and defaces the wall with a knife, but he is in frustrating stasis.
He lives in a society ruled by old men. They dismiss a mediator who has done 47 previous mediations between feuding families. One of the group of elders says, "That's how it works." Universal concept?
It's a world in which stones are put in the way of progress.
The younger generation is undergoing change. At the beginning of the film we see a symbolic image of a haywagon pulled by a horse being passed by two teenagers on a motorbike.
The contemporary generation isn't committed to rigid traditions such as blood feud, but they still are effected and confined by them.
The young live in a world of cell phones, text messaging, and video games. Nik wants to start an Internet cafe - "Four or five computers and I'm set." But that is before the fatal incident.
The young wear jeans. There's a gap (pun intended) between the generations. But the past still is in control.
One night Nik goes out to a dark barn to meet with the female classmate, but it's just a moment in endless hours of entrapment.
At the end, Nik comes to a moment of decision.
Director Joshua Marston, who contributed to the screenplay written by Andamion Murataj, makes a brave but risky choice. He keeps almost all the violence off screen.
That's a risk because some viewers need literal images. But like Hitchcock, Marston lets our imaginations consider the feud and its evidence. It's a risk. One "top reviewer" kept referring to the horse - a vital character - as an "ox." Not surprisingly, she didn't appreciate the movie. They didn't gore the horse.
But in The Forgiveness of Blood, violence - even unseen - ripples far beyond the original participants.
Marston is beautifully served by cinematographer Rob Hardy. The juxtaposition of daylight and confinement is evocative.
In one compelling image, Hardy shows the two schoolmates at night sitting beside each other in a dark barn. From a distance we see their hands touching; Hardy makes the hands shine.
The cast is appealing, especially Sindi Lacej as Rudina.
Rudina compromises and even negotiates effectively one time when she makes a crucial sale. Rudina has survived and been enterprising, perceptive and responsible.
Is the past going to stifle her?
Or, despite her arrested education, will she prevail? We can only hope.
For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).
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