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Review and Interview: Joshua Marston’s Very Impressive “The Forgiveness of Blood”

Review and Interview: Joshua Marston's Very Impressive "The Forgiveness of Blood"

One of our favorite films we saw at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival is “The Forgiveness of Blood,” the second feature by “Maria Full of Grace” director Joshua Marston. Film critic Daniel Walber, who was impressed with many aspects of the Albanian-language teen drama, reviewed the film from the fest, calling it an honest, universal and surprisingly non-exoticizing work by an outsider filmmaker who respectfully overcomes the language barrier for a nuanced piece of global cinema. Here’s some snippets of that review:

Marston, for the second straight film of his career, has done everything right. Just as “Maria Full of Grace” is built on a foundation of compassion and understanding, “The Forgiveness of Blood” tells the story of two Albanian teenagers caught up in an ancient form of conflict without ever losing sight of their humanity. Nik and Rudina are brother and sister, high school students thoroughly rooted in the 21st century. The have Facebook accounts, they text, and they play video games. Yet when a conflict between their father and the next-door neighbor turns bloody, their lives turn completely upside down. […]

Marston has created a work that builds upon human commonalities, empathy and recognizable experience. His extraordinary research (including learning the Albanian language) allows for profoundly true narrative details that vindicate rather than exploit his subject, while his emotional focus will connect any audience to these characters without needing a single ounce of intermediation. It’s extremely impressive cinema and I can’t wait to see where he goes next.

Daniel also chatted with Marston during the festival, talking to the filmmaker about his research process, putting together the music for the film and having to learn Albanian in order to tell a story in that language. Here’s one bit from the interview concerning Marston’s avoidance of coming in and being an exploitating foreigner:

Are you ever concerned that your films will be, if not necessarily exploitative, more along the lines of tourist cinema than a truthful and honest portrayal of your subject matter? How do you avoid that?

I worry about it every minute of every day that I’m making the film. It’s constantly on my mind. That’s why I told the story about the mayor. We were trying to meet families who were in isolation, and the government says, “Well, there aren’t any” or, “Their numbers are dwindling.” Then we’d get a mediator to take us to a family that’s in isolation. After five hours of being in their house, while shaking their hands and leaving we’d say “Well, at least the problem is being resolved,” and they’d say “what do you mean? There are three families across the valley who are living in isolation.” It wasn’t until I had that conversation with the mayor that I felt legitimate making a movie about this. I didn’t want to be exploitative, I didn’t just want to hop on the bandwagon with journalists who just want to do something easy and need something to write about so that they can further their career. I wanted to make sure that I was genuine.

The more I learned about the subject, the more I could figure out if someone in Albania actually knew less than I did. They might know one specific case, because of a family member or a friend involved, but beyond that they only knew what the rumor was. Whereas I had gone and been in the houses of a dozen families living in isolation, so I had all this first-hand knowledge. In a way I think that concern that you raise drives me to keep asking more and more questions, to constantly make sure that what I’m doing is honest. It’s not just in the research stage, it’s also when making the film and working with the actors. Making sure that any given scene or line of dialogue rings true and honest. So the answer to your question is yes, I’m super-paranoid about it.

“The Forgiveness of Blood” opens in NYC and Los Angeles Friday, February 24.

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