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Should a son pay for his father’s sins? The answer is an unequivocal “yes” in The Forgiveness of Blood, Joshua Marston’s follow-up his 2004 heroin-mule drama Maria Full of Grace. Though born in California, Marston has made an Albanian film, which he co-wrote with freshman scripter Andamion Murataj. There’s not much going on here; if the script were any more drawn out, the actors would be moving in slow motion. But it’s the kernel of its central conflict that makes this film sporadically compelling.
When The Forgiveness of Blood opens, Mark and his eldest son, Nik (Refet Abazi Tristan Halilaj), are taking a shortcut home after a day of delivering bread, the family’s only source of income. They need to move some stones to pass through; the road has been blocked by Sokol, the owner of the earth it sits on, even though in past generations the neighbors were friendly. One day a fight breaks out, Sokol ends up dead, and Mark goes on the lam. According to Albanian tradition, apparently, the murder warrants a blood feud, meaning that Sokol’s family has every right to kill Mark—or if not him, then a male in his family. And so his son must go in hiding, too.
Nik’s family pulls him out of school and places him under house arrest, where he plays video games, sends messages to his crush, and becomes increasingly moody as his isolation drags on. His sister Rudina (Sindi Lacej), meanwhile, needs to forget school, as well, so she can sustain their clan by delivering bread. She’s miserable and shunned by her fellow merchants, but becomes quite industrious when she sees an opportunity to make more money.
And that’s about it. Throughout, there’s a chance of a ceasefire, but it seems a perilous thing that must be negotiated just right—and therefore an action the family is hesitant to take. Mostly, the film pedals hard on the danger that Nik experiences every time he passes a window or, stupidly, slips out to see his friends. Because of the small house, Nik’s danger is everyone else’s, too; there’s a distressing scene in which shots are fired and Nik’s toddler brother is nearly hit. Marston composes a household that’s all too real—you’d never know this film wasn’t directed by an Albanian—with mostly rural trappings and enticingly parochial concerns. Murder is on everyone’s mind, but so is how many minutes remain on the family cell phone.
Watching and waiting, however, is the crux of the story. And though it’s often fraught with tension, the film’s slow pace may leave you as stir-crazy as Nik.