The Forgiveness of Blood
American director Joshua Marston emerged in 2004 with the jolting, Oscar-nominated Maria Full of Grace, about a young Colombian woman working as a drug mule. In his remarkable follow-up, The Forgiveness of Blood, he turns his camera on another corner of the world: contemporary northern Albania, a place still troubled by the ancient custom of interfamilial blood feuds. From this reality, Marston sculpts a fictional narrative about a teenage brother and sister physically and emotionally trapped in a cycle of violence, a result of their father’s entanglement with a rival clan over a piece of land. The Forgiveness of Blood is a tense and perceptive depiction of a place where tradition and progress coexist uneasily, as well as a dynamic coming-of-age drama.
Criterion presents Joshua Marston’s The Forgiveness of Blood on Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this dual-layer disc. The transfer is presented in 1080p/24hz.
Shot on super 16mm the transfer retains that filmic look but it has a few short comings that may be related to the film stock and possibly shooting conditions. Surprisingly it can have a bit of a fuzzy look at times, with edges not as clearly defined as I would have expected and some minor details getting lost in close-ups. Film grain remains and looks clean, so this leads me to suspect that any possible short comings could just be inherent in the source. Colours lean more on the warmer side and skin tones can look a little reddish, but this could also be the intent. Black levels are nice, though, looking deep and inky, and darker scenes are still easy to see.
I don’t recall any blemishes appearing and the print is in great shape. Other than the somewhat fuzzy look it can have at times it’s still film-like and perfectly stable.
The film receives a lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround presentation; though don’t expect it to test the limitations of your set up. Surrounds are primarily limited to background effects and sections of the film’s score, as well as the occasional surprise that will jolt the viewer, but not much else. There are some noticeable splits in places, volume levels are excellent with decent range, and bass is subtle and effective. The audio is clear, dialogue sounds natural, and the track doesn’t present any damage or distortion. It’s perfectly fine, but still a fairly simple surround presentation.
Criterion includes a small number of supplements about the film’s production and topic, starting with a fairly strong audio commentary by director Joshua Marston. After explaining that he is not Albanian and had actually never been to Albania before making this film, the director talks about the long odyssey of putting this film together. The original influence was an article he had read on blood feuds in Albania and from here he went to the country, began interviewing locals, and started writing the story. A lot of the story came from tales he heard from locals and he actually based quite a few things on what he saw, like how one of the teens in the film managed to get their hands on an expensive cellphone. He gives a decent amount of background on blood feuds and the old traditions, which come from a code called the Kanun, which became the fallback after Communism fell in the country. In between giving a history of what he learned about the country he also talks about the development of the actual script, shooting various scenes, and the casting of the young actors. The track was actually a pleasant surprise and I found it quite entertaining, especially for the historical goodies found in it.
Moving on to video features we first get Truth on the Ground, a 17-minute interview featuring producer Paul Mezey, brief onset interviews with actors Refet Abazi, Tristan Haliaj, and Sindi Laçej, and behind-the-scenes footage. The actors talk about working on the film, with the director, and what the film represents to them, while Mezey talks about how he and Marston develop a film, gets a bit into Albania’s history, shooting on location, traditions in the country (and dealing with them while shooting) and some of the issues they had to deal with. He also gets into how they were able to make necessary modifications to the main house in the film, talks a bit about some of the casting of the minor characters, and then touches on the photography. Somewhat of a making-of it’s a solid addendum to the director commentary.
Acting Close to Home is a 23-minute interview between director Marston and actors Refet Abazi, Tristan Haliaj, and Sindi Laçej, recorded in what I think is the lobby of the Criterion office. The piece starts out with the two young actors talking about being cast and developing their characters, and they also talk a bit about blood feuds, with Abazi chiming in about a personal story on the subject. From here they also talk about filming and what the characters meant to them. A much better setup than a talking-heads feature, the actors offer a much more personal perspective to the film.
Criterion then includes a collection of auditions and rehearsals. We get over 9-minutes worth of audition footage featuring Laçej and Haliaj on their own, followed by an improv bit featuring the two together. The rehearsal footage presents about 10-minutes worth, first featuring a round table discussion about a scene and then rehearsals of that scene. The disc then concludes with the film’s American theatrical trailer. Writer Oscar Moralde finally provides an essay about the film, Albania, and blood feuds in the included booklet.
There’s probably more material that could be added here, like the article about blood feuds that influenced Marston, or maybe some more historical content. But the features we do get are engaging, with some personal stories from the cast and a lot of historical information from Marston in the commentary, mixed in with more technical details on the shoot. It’s a little light but I enjoyed going through everything on here.
Criterion delivers a fairly solid Blu-ray edition for the film, delivering some intriguing supplements worth going through and a decent audio and video presentation.