So you think we have problems with the justice system in this country?
Welcome to modern-day Albania, where blood feuds are settled by ancient tradition that traps family members inside their homes for months on end.
In "The Forgiveness of Blood," Mark (Refet Abazi) makes a meager living for his family by delivering bread in a horse-drawn wagon. He has always used a road through private property that once belonged to his family. Now it's owned by a hothead who decides one day to block Mark's passage.
This leads to a prickly exchange in a bar and later, in front of Mark's teen daughter, Rudina (Sindi Lacej). The argument escalates into an offscreen confrontation in which the hothead is killed, Mark's brother is jailed and Mark goes into hiding.
An ancient code called the Kunan dictates that as long as Mark is in hiding, the hothead's relatives can kill members of his family if the family members venture beyond their home. The younger girls are exempted.
The movie focuses on the price young people pay for their relatives being caught up in hatred and settling old scores.
The Kunan's terms are especially hard on Mark's son Nik (Tristan Halilaj), about 18, who suddenly can't attend high school, can't see the girl he has a crush on, can't play computer games with his best buddy. He seems like a nice kid.
Rudina, meanwhile, must take over the bread delivery duties, which the dead man's relatives complicate at every turn. She turns to selling black-market cigarettes to supplement family income. She's plucky and admirable.
Nik presses for a besa, an armistice in which a mediator negotiates terms to end a feud, which can go on for years. But his father won't agree to an outside mediator, and his relatives seem utterly incapable of handling the prickly negotiations.
Eventually, Nik goes stir-crazy from being trapped inside and confronts the situation — and his father — head-on. The blood feud is tearing the family apart.
Director and co-writer Joshua Marston produced an admirable first film, "Maria Full of Grace," the story of a Colombian drug smuggler that garnered Oscar attention in 2004.
Marston isn't as successful this time out, though the realistic depiction of a backward justice system and the painful price the young people pay is quite watchable. Both young actors give strong performances.
But an unsatisfying ending suggests nothing more than acceptance and futility as answers to a bad situation.
Still, it's an interesting window into a culture that's virtually unknown here. And the metaphor of the young paying for the sins of their parents' generation won't be entirely lost on some Americans.
The movie is in Albanian, with subtitles.
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