Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Tristan Halilaj, Sindi Lacej, Refet Abazi, Ilire Vinca Celaj
Written by: Joshua Marston, Andamion Murataj
Directed by: Joshua Marston
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: Albanian, with English subtitles
Running Time: 109
Date: 02/18/2011
IMDB

The Forgiveness of Blood (2012)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Feud for Thought

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Director Joshua Marston is an American who made his first movie in Colombia and now, eight years later, makes his second movie in Albania. Both of those movies are so good that it will be interesting to see if he can teach Hollywood a thing or two.

But in the meantime, he teaches us a great deal about Albania in The Forgiveness of Blood, and specifically the concept of blood feuds. Basically, anytime anyone has a fight about land or money or something, the entire family becomes involved. Both families are expected to stay sequestered in their homes. Breaking this rule is an invitation to death.

There's a whole industry built around blood feuds. Moderators charge heavy fees to go back and forth, speaking to the families. Councils of old men sit around and consult the Kanun to figure out which family owes what to the other.

Marston has figured out a way to make a movie for both Albanian audiences -- who know about this stuff -- and American audiences, who don't, without over-explaining or insulting anyone. He has also figured out a way to point out the tragedy of this situation without preaching, and without romanticizing.

He has done this by focusing on a pair of teens, a brother and sister. Nik (Tristan Halilaj) is a typical teenage boy, fixing his hair in the mirror and figuring out how to talk to the girl he likes. His sister, Rudina (Sindi Lacej), is a good deal more responsible. When the blood feud begins, after their father has a disagreement over crossing another man's land, she's the one that is chosen to take over the family's bread cart business.

Nik, on the other hand, builds himself a homemade barbell and starts constructing a kind of sanctuary on the roof of his home. He receives and sends a video greeting to the girl, but quickly realizes the futility of this. He starts to go crazy with pent-up energy and eventually tries something drastic.

Though the movie is about being trapped and locked in, Marston nevertheless makes it dynamic, like someone punching at walls. No one ever gives up and does nothing. He also creates so many intense images, from the family's pathetic, horse-drawn cart to Nik's desperate carving on the living room wall.

I know the movie sounds like a downer, but I can't emphasize enough how non-preachy it is, and what good drama it is. It effortlessly coaxes us into the story with the ease of an afternoon soap opera. But it's also smart and with a memorable visual style. If you saw Marston's debut feature Maria Full of Grace (2004), you'll know what I mean. I just hope that Hollywood eventually realizes what a talent it has right there in its own margins, and gives Marston a chance to work more often.

Thankfully, this overlooked movie has been picked up for a high-class DVD and Blu-ray release by the Criterion Collection. The transfer is superb, capturing the film's warm, open-air look and feel. Director Marston provides a commentary track. There are two featurettes: Acting Close to Home, a discussion between Marston and actors Refet Abazi, Tristan Halilaj, and Sindi Laçej, and Truth on the Ground, featuring new and on-set interviews with producer Paul Mezey, Abazi, Halilaj, and Laçej. There's also audition and rehearsal footage, a trailer, and a liner notes booklet with an essay by film writer Oscar Moralde.