Director Joshua Marston (Maria, Full Of Grace) delivers a story about how traditional blood feuds in northern Albania still affect and create tensions between people also dealing with an ever-evolving social and political climate. The cast consists of both established and new actors from the region, some of whom have also personally been affected by blood feuds within their communities.
In order to fully appreciate everything that’s happening in The Forgiveness Of Blood, it’s important to understand a little about the tradition of blood feuds in Albania. Blood feuds are generally violent disputes between family groups that, regardless of how they started, affect and involve every member of those families. They can arise for different reasons, although many of them tend to center around property rights. Tensions may escalate over time or quite suddenly, but if a death occurs as a result, then a blood feud is born between the families, where retribution is demanded (and with tradition, it’s more or less expected) by the family who lost a life. It’s eye-for-an-eye taken to a broader and almost unregulated degree. The entire family of the person who took the life will often go into hiding, sometimes for months or years, because all of them, especially the males, become potential targets – or recompense – for settling the dispute. The family who suffered the loss are usually unwilling to rest the feud until they have either taken a life in return or there has been extensive (and often expensive) mediation in order to settle affairs.
Blood feuds in the region seem to have arisen for two reasons. The first is because of a perceived absence in adequate political means for justice. Albania for decades found itself in flux between different systems of governmental rule, as well as self-rule, which often left regional peoples unmoored from police protection and justice systems, something which didn’t really lesson after their current autonomy arrived in the 1990s. As a result, a form of traditional law – captured in what is known as the Kanun – found some resurgence and tried to fill the void, and one of the things it allowed and semi-codified were these blood feuds to settle fatal disputes between families. But even the Kanun was only loosely followed in the details, often adhered to more by oral tradition than its written tenets, and resulted in something that often created more disharmony and confusion instead of less.
But the second reason for blood feuds was to uphold a traditional sense of honor for persons and families as a whole. A murder was seen as bringing shame to a family, but in order to restore honor the life must be avenged. To not do so was seen as weak and dishonorable to those directly involved, as well as to the overall family name. This mix of loose tradition and continual retributive justice simply created a vicious cycle, with one side’s attempt at “righting” a dishonor simply creating a reciprocal need for atonement. And back and forth it would go.
With that as a backdrop, The Forgiveness Of Blood focuses on a family who soon find themselves caught up in a blood feud. Mark and his wife have four children, and Mark’s livelihood is as a bread-cart driver. His route passes through a section of land which once belonged to his relatives, but when the government eventually turned it over to another family, it become a source of fierce tension between the two groups. Powder keg tension, just waiting to go off. One day the current land owner decides he has had enough, and blocks access to the road, cutting off Mark’s delivery route and in the process threatening him to leave the land alone. Mark and his brother go back over there later to confront the man about it, and although we don’t see the altercation, in the process the man is killed.
The already tense relations between the two families obviously ignite, and Mark immediately puts his family into hiding within their house, while he runs off to escape capture by the police, or worse, capture/murder by the other family. The movie then turns its focus to Mark’s oldest son, Nik, and oldest daughter, Rudina, as they deal with becoming prisoners in their own home, for the former, and having to carry on the family business, for the latter. They are both high school students, whose lives are already much more progressive and globally minded than the tradition-steeped members of even their parents’ generation. Their lives are dominated by cell phones and Facebook, and it soon becomes obvious that the traditions of the Kanun and blood feuds are – even for these Albanians – becoming the dangerous relic of a dying age. The children aren’t able to go to school, or for the most part even leave the house; their father continually on the run against a family with no intention of having the score settled by any other way except their blood.