While he may not be the most prolific filmmaker of his generation, one of the recent crop of independent filmmakers that appears to be standing heads and shoulders above his contemporaries happens to be director Joshua Marston. Debuting with a huge splash in the form of the film Maria Full of Grace, Marston is back at it again with his latest film, The Forgiveness Of Blood. Not only has the film seen its major theatrical release earlier in 2012, but with October came the release of the IFC-distributed drama on DVD and Blu-ray with the might stamp of approval from The Criterion Collection.
Continuing Marston’s streak of setting his films outside of his native US as well as casting non-actors in the film’s main roles, Blood is as affecting a narrative as you’ll find. Set against the backdrop of the history of blood feuds in Albania, the film follows a young man who is caught in the middle of this centuries old ideal. With his father becoming involved with another clan over a plot of land, he must stay in hiding for he is the sole man capable of taking on the sins of his father. Using Marston’s patented sense of realism to craft a naturalistic look at Albania’s custom of blood feuds, Blood is a beautifully haunting motion picture that may be a tad overlong and poorly paced, but is a beautifully crafted look at a generation doomed by the ones before it.
Performance wise, the film lacks that thrilling lead performance that made Maria the masterpiece that it truly was. The film features a slim cast here, led by the pair of Tristan Halilaj and Sindi Lacej. Both are fine here, taking on the role of brother and sister within this troubled family, giving us really emotive and expressive faces to fall for. Lacej is especially superb, as her character must take on a far greater role than anyone her age should have to take on. Halilaj is fine, but is not only a one note performer, but is overshadowed by the rest of this solid collection of fresh faces. It’s Marston who is the film’s real star.
Marston takes the aesthetic that he helped foster within the framework of his masterful Maria to the next, haunting level, positing that the very generation he focuses upon is not only doomed to fall to the sins of their fathers, but is to do so the very second they are born. With generation upon generation behind them not willing to budge an inch on the subject of their centuries old customs, no matter how violent they may be.
Visually, the film is muted, steeping in its dirt-colored photography and beautiful Albanian landscapes. Beautifully realistic, the film comes off aesthetically as more a documentary than a piece of fiction, which may be the single greatest touch of the burgeoning auteur behind the camera. Flooded in a sense of impending doom, the film is earth-toned and features a narrative as beautifully evocative as its aesthetic.
As with any Criterion Collection release, even a solid, but underwhelming feature film can be given the greatest of treatments, and this is no different. Led by a beautiful transfer and a collection of audition and rehearsal footage, the crowning achievement of this release is the Joshua Marston commentary. It’s both engaging and also extremely insightful, particularly given the film’s impact on the conversation surrounding blood feuds and their history in Albania. It’s a top notch directors commentary, and a track that adds something that this film frankly should be void of; a reason to re-watch it. Toss in a pair of programs featuring interviews with Marston, Halilaj, Lacej and actor Refet Abazi, and you have one of the more interesting releases that is likely set to be lost amongst the shuffle of what is Criterion’s greatest collection of releases in their history. The coming months bring a lot of A-list releases from the company, but don’t let this one go unseen, as it’s both emotionally resonant, and also simply a fantastic home video release.