Joshua Marston is an atypical filmmaker. After he graduated from Beverly Hills High School, Marston's interest in photography led him to internships with Life magazine and ABC News. But, as he says in a 2004 Indiewire interview, he always felt that a photograph didn't convey the full story; he thought that film might provide the background, context and nuances of a situation far better than even the most evocative still image. But it was only after becoming dissatisfied with working towards a graduate degree in political science that he finally made the decision to become a filmmaker.
His thesis film at NYU (about a Russian couple stranded one night in New Jersey who are helped home by two Pakistanis) established a pattern which has held in his subsequent, albeit sparse output — an interest in other cultures and the ways in which social and political circumstances shape individual lives. That film and his two subsequent theatrical features deal with marginalized people far from the attention of mainstream American movies, and all have been shot in other languages with casts taken from the communities being depicted.
Marston's first, and best-known, feature was the award-winning Maria Full of Grace (2004), about a Columbian teenager who makes the desperate choice to become a drug mule in an attempt to escape crushing poverty. His second feature, The Forgiveness of Blood (2011), recently released by the Criterion Collection on DVD and Blu-ray, is in many ways a more difficult film to grasp. Although the focus on Maria in his previous film might be an unfamiliar angle, the South American drug trade is something which has been highly visible in the media for decades. Life in post-communist Albania, on the other hand, has been virtually invisible to the West.
In The Forgiveness of Blood, Nik (Tristan Halilaj) and his younger sister Rudina (Sindi Lacej) are a couple of teenagers who live in a small town. They go to school, they have smart phones, they play computer games. Nik has an ambition to open a small internet cafe in a vacant storefront which he walks past on his way home from school. Their father Mark (Refet Abazi) makes a living by delivering bread from a home-made horse-drawn cart, while their mother Drita (Ilire Vinca Celaj) has some kind of factory job. With two younger siblings, Nik and Rudina live what seem like pretty normal teenager lives.