The Forgiveness of Blood: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray Review)

American director Joshua Marston broke out in 2004 with his jolting, Oscar-nominated Maria Full of Grace, about a young Colombian woman working as a drug mule. In his remarkable follow-up, The Forgiveness of Blood, he turns his camera on another corner of the world: contemporary northern Albania, a place still troubled by the ancient custom of interfamilial blood feuds. From this reality, Marston sculpts a fictional narrative about a teenage brother and sister physically and emotionally trapped in a cycle of violence, a result of their father’s entanglement with a rival clan over a piece of land. The Forgiveness of Blood is a tense and perceptive depiction of a place where tradition and progress have an uneasy coexistence, as well as a dynamic coming-of-age drama.

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The Forgiveness of Blood, in its somewhat menacing title, is about an Albanian family who live a very simple life in a rural village. The oldest of the children are Nik (Tristan Halilaj) a young and popular lad in school and his sister Rudina (Sindi Lacej), a straight A student. Their father, Mark (Refet Abazi), supports the family by delivering bread daily into town – as the family has a makeshift bakery where they make their own to sell. Rudina and Nik are bright kids that aspire to be more than their parents. They have cell phones, go to school, use computers, etc. They’re really over the whole village way of life.

One day on a delivery run Nik and Rudina’s father gets into an altercation with a landowner who refuses to let him cut through his land, a land that once belonged to their great-grandparents, and is killed in the fight. This death incites a blood feud between the family of the dead man and Nik and Rudina’s. Mark, their father, was not arrested, only their uncle who aided in the murder. This blood feud is known as Kanun and it requires that all of the males in the family be isolated inside their home, pretty much forever, while the women are left to run and support the household. Rudina quits school and takes over her father’s delivery routes while Nik goes a bit stir-crazy inside the house all the day. Their father is in hiding and is being tracked by the police and the dead man’s family.

I’d only ever read about blood feuds in books and such but had never actually seen a film that focuses on the consequences of certain actions. They really do take the eye for eye scenario seriously in this film. It’s also a very archaic way of settling things – the other way would be that they could just go and kill a family member outright, but within the Kanun, there are already sets of rules in play. Nik and Rudina’s family bring in elders from the town and even try to bring in a mediator to advise and maybe settle things with the rival family. You could almost say that it has a bit of a “gangster” flourish in that sense. The mediator doesn’t mediate for free, so there could be that obstacle of scraping together money and belongings to try and right these wrongs. Even then, there’s no guarantee that the other family will accept the truce.

As Nik begins to get a bit of cabin fever he starts to lash out at his family and resent his father for causing all of this drama that now affects him directly. At first it threw me off and I did not understand why Nik started to act like such a brat and then it dawned on me. I missed the cue of: the father’s actions result in consequences on the son. If Nik were to set foot outside his door he could get killed by any of the dead man’s relatives and it would be a totally sanctioned kill.

In Rudina’s case she has to become a savvy businesswoman overnight and hustle her bread deliveries into town. This also is a strain, because there’s a sense of apprehension once she’s in town, because it’s usually her father that’s the one doing the selling and with news of the blood feud going on, she gets a bit of a cold shoulder from the townsfolk.

Watching The Forgiveness of Blood all I could think of was: if these people were just a bit more educated, like their children, would blood feuds even exist? It’s practically medieval, in my opinion. Everyone has to tread carefully and not offend anyone else. That sense of honor and pride is held up to a higher standard almost is if that’s all there is in these simple lives. It’s all about: pride, honor, and family and that’s it. It’s definitely eye opening and I think director and co-writer Joshua Marston has done a fantastic in crafting a story like this that most of us Western folk would never see or hear of. It’s also great to see Joshua Marston back in the saddle again – it was 7 years between The Forgiveness of Blood and Maria Full of Grace.

The Forgiveness of Blood is a quiet film about a not so quiet subject and I do hope that more people get a chance to check it via this Criterion Collection Blu-ray.

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The Forgiveness of Blood is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Black bars at the top and bottom of the screen are normal for this format. Approved by director of photography Rob Hardy; this new high-definition digital transfer was created on an ARRISCAN film scanner from the Super 16 mm negative.

The Forgiveness of Blood was indeed shot on 16 mm but you would not think that at all. When I was watching it I thought I was watching a fine 35 mm print. It’s that good! Grain levels are stellar while rarely fluctuating as are black levels. Sharpness has been kept in check and I did not notice any instances of noise or banding. It’s a very natural looking film and the print is stellar.

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This film features a fully digital 5.1 surround soundtrack. The audio for this release was mastered at 24-bit from the original digital audio master files using Pro Tools HD.

The Forgiveness of Blood is presented in DTS-HD MA 5.1. It’s in Albanian with English subtitles. The Forgiveness of Blood is a recent film, so the audio soundtrack wasn’t necessarily restored since it was always of high quality when the film was made. Primarily a dialogue driven film – it all comes through nice and clear. Music also has a great thump to it. I was really surprise at how quiet some scenes were and dynamic other scenes of peril were. One minute we’re having a hush conversation and the next minute someone is firing into a home and the surround channels are capturing the bullets in flight. Very startling and very cool.

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The Forgiveness of Blood comes with a nice assortment of special features that include several featurettes, interviews, audition footage, rehearsal footage, directors commentary, and more. Not bad bunch of extras if I do say so myself. All the extras on this Blu-ray add depth to the finished product and none of them come off as self serving or phony. Good stuff here for all.

  • Audio Commentary by director and co-writer Joshua Marston 
  • Two new programs: Acting Close to Home, a discussion between Marston and actors Refet Abazi, Tristan Halihaj, and Sindi Lacej, and Truth on the Ground, featuring new and on-set interviews with producer Paul Mezey, Abazi, Halihaj, and Lacei
  • Audition footage, and rehearsal footage
  • Trailer
  • A booklet featuring an essay by film writer Oscar Moralde

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The Forgiveness of Blood was a very intense look at a foreign culture that I’m not familiar with at all. It’s about the antiquated ways people in rural areas deal with in setting the wrong things right. I think director Joshua Marston has succeeded in capturing this way of life on film considering he’s an outsider. You wouldn’t know it, because his handling of the material is extremely spot on. Criterion has done a great job in offering this film to world and the Blu-ray is fantastic. The video and audio are on form as are the supplements. The Forgiveness of Blood should be added to your Blu-ray film collection.



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Gerard Iribe is a writer/reviewer for Why So Blu?. He has also reviewed for other sites like DVD Talk, Project-Blu, and CHUD, but Why So Blu? is where the heart is. You can follow his incoherency on Twitter: @giribe

1 Response to “The Forgiveness of Blood: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray Review)”

  1. Brian White

    But wait! How can a Criterion not have a 5 star film score? 🙂