The past and the present, ancient laws and modern longings, collide in The Forgiveness of Blood, a satisfying, psychologically complex tale of a teenager caught in a blood feud in the craggy countryside of Albania.
Nik (Tristan Halilaj) seems happy enough riding his motor scooter and courting a beautiful classmate, Bardha (Ilire Vinca Celaj). He talks about opening an Internet cafe, and about moving to London. He kicks around the rugged landscape of northern Albania, where farmers still use horse-drawn carts, and where a 15th-century legal code called the Kanun is still in play. The law allows a family that has lost a member to murder to seek retribution by killing a male from the opposing family.
Nik, unfortunately, is that male. When his father and uncle stab a neighbor over a land dispute, it is Nik who is carted off and sequestered in a prison-like home, his fate uncertain.
While The Forgiveness of Blood lacks the narrative momentum of director Joshua Marston's previous film, Maria Full of Grace - the story of a young Colombian smuggling drugs to the United States, desperately trying to better her lot in life - it is nonetheless fascinating. Marston has a documentarian's eye, immersing us in the culture of a people still shaking off the yoke of communism. And his empathy for Nik - a kid blindsided by century-old traditions - resonates in powerful ways.