Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Best Films of 2012: #8

"Maria Full of Grace" director Joshua Marston returned with another potent, immersive look at a world culture, the fascinating "The Forgiveness of Blood," about the Albanian tradition of blood feuds, an extralegal form of homegrown justice in which the family of a murdered man has the right to avenge his honor by killing the murderer or another man in his family. Because the family home is considered sacrosanct, however, hundreds of Albanian families live in virtual house arrest, the sins of the fathers visited mercilessly on the sons, their lives on indefinite hold until, years later if ever, the feuds are resolved through a ritualized process of mediation.

This cancerous practice - based on a primarily oral set of traditional laws called the Kanun - began in the Albanian highlands and was outlawed by the communist regime in power until a generation ago. When communism fell, giving rise to a weak, fledgling democracy, with an underfinanced justice system ill-equipped to prosecute violent crime, the problem metastasized, coming down into midsize villages and now large cities (Shkodra, the capital Tirana) where land is at such a premium that, in one case, a murder gave rise to a blood feud after one family placed some baskets over an imaginary line in a space shared with another family.

Marston - absent from the scene for eight years - has taken his time and done his research, and his film (featuring mostly nonprofessional actors culled from interviews with thousands of schoolchildren and others) touches meaningfully on myriad aspects of the blood feud custom. There is tension between new ways and old. There is the concept of a "besa," a limited form of furlough, which may be granted and revoked at will by the family of the victim. There are interesting issues of gender. The male elders in the families decide, on the victim's side, how and when vengeance will be exacted and, on the perpetrator's side, when and how to seek besas and, eventually, forgiveness. Yet with some of their male relatives on the lam and others housebound, it's often the wives and daughters who must earn the families' livelihoods. "The Forgiveness of Blood" posed some of the most intriguing questions of the movie year.

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