On the level of craft, The Forgiveness of Blood is a skilful piece of work. Rob Hardy's cinematography is richly coloured and expressive; the performances, particularly of Halilaj and Lacej, but including even the smallest roles, have a sense of depth and authenticity which give the film an air of truthfulness even when the events seem peculiarly alien. Watching it a second time, armed with background information, it becomes a fascinating study of an entire society which is struggling with a confused sense of identity, caught between the weight of a crushing past and the unsettling uncertainties of a present and future which are being overwhelmed by an outside world whose technology and attitudes seem to have no roots in the local history.
Marston's approach to the story is very rare, in that he submerges himself to the point of invisibility, allowing the Albanian cast and setting to exist without external editorial comment. If it reminded me of anything, it was Lionel Rogosin's searing depiction of South African apartheid in Come Back, Africa (1959), which was also made by a socially committed American filmmaker who cast and scripted the film with local people who were deeply involved in the situations being depicted.
Criterion's DVD offers an crisp transfer of the subtle, expressive film image with a 5.1 surround mix of the original Albanian soundtrack and optional English subtitles. This is one case where the supplements are extremely useful in understanding the film. In addition to the interview-based making-of and director's commentary, there's a discussion between Marston and three of his actors, Halilaj, Lacej and Abazi, in which they talk about both the casting and rehearsal process and the social background of the story. There are also audition tapes and some rehearsal footage which illustrate Marston's improvisatory approach to script development. In addition, the insert booklet contains more useful background in a brief essay by Oscar Moralde.