Menus Subscribe Search

From Modern Albania, A Feudal Tragedy

• February 23, 2012 • 10:00 AM

“The Forgiveness of Blood” looks at a Balkan nation that has left behind feudalism and then communism but not the traditions of the blood feud.

Give director Joshua Marston credit — he doesn’t take on easy film projects. Marston’s debut feature, 2004’s Maria Full of Grace, was about a Colombian drug mule and her desperate attempts to find her way in the U.S. It humanized a demonized underclass and featured a critically acclaimed performance by Catalina Sandino Moreno.

Now, in The Forgiveness of Blood, Marston has gone to Albania to make a film about blood feuds and what adherence to a 15th-century set of legal codes known as the kanun has meant for a country on the road to modernization.

“I was fascinated by the juxtaposition between the old and the new, the oddities and unexpected moments one finds in this period of transition Albania is going through,” Marston said in an interview with Miller-McCune. “It’s a truism that the world is changing all around us, but it’s often difficult to see. One of the things that’s fascinating is to go to a place like Albania and see it more clearly.”

[class name="dont_print_this"]

Moving Pictures

MOVING PICTURES
An occasional look at movies that matter.

[/class]

You can say that again. Set in a small town in the northern part of the country, The Forgiveness of Blood, with its contrast between the modern and the feudal, plays at times like a science fiction film. The plot concerns a father and uncle who murder a rival in a land dispute, and the teenaged son who is forced to drop out of school and stay at home because under the kanun, the family of the murdered man is entitled to take the life of a male from the murderer’s family as retribution.

What makes this all so bizarre is that this centuries-old ritualism is set in a totally contemporary atmosphere. These people may be poor, but the accoutrements of contemporary living are everywhere: everyone has cell phones, while conveniences like refrigerators, TVs, microwaves, and computers are ubiquitous. Yet all this seems to mean nothing when the people in the film are strangled by the heavy hand of tradition. And the legal system, such as it is, can’t seem to do much about it.

[youtube]M6zKzDFOwF8[/youtube]

“There is a police and judicial system, and it is functioning,” said Marston, “but the attitude of the police is one of frustration. If, for example, there’s a killing, the police will go to the house of the victim to get information, but the family might be reluctant because the family wants to take revenge, and they don’t have an interest in giving information that would allow the prosecution to pursue the criminal and lock him up. If they go to the murderer’s family, they might try to get information on where he has run off to, but in order to prevent a blood feud, they have to protect that family.”

There are other permutations. The aggrieved family might take their time plotting their revenge, forcing all the men in the other family to stay indoors, thereby slowly killing them economically. There are also attempts to work things out through mediators, but in The Forgiveness of Blood, the clannishness of the killer’s family makes them suspicious of a successful big-city go-between.

And it turns out that these feuds are not limited to rural areas. “It used to be these feuds came out of a streak of resistance by highlanders who were not touched by the central state,” said Marston. “But that’s no longer the case. There has been a real urbanization, and as the country modernizes, people take their beliefs with them.”

Say this for former Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha, who banned the kanun and its uses: under his 40-year reign, only one blood feud killing was recorded. But since the collapse of communism, more than 9,500 males have been killed by blood feuds, and 20,000 males have been under virtual house arrest, afraid to step outside because of an unofficial death sentence.

In the end, the teen protagonist of The Forgiveness of Blood manages to cut a deal that allows him freedom, but only if he emigrates (probably to stay with relatives in Canada). And this does not resolve the feud at the center of the film, which seems nowhere near a resolution.

Ultimately, Marsten’s work is asking a number of interesting questions that could apply to any number of emerging democacries. Is Albania just another Balkan hellhole? Is it ready to enter the modern world? And will the younger generation end the grip of the kanun?

“In some respects, [Albania] is a fucked-up Balkan country,” said Marston, “but it’s also a country of young kids who fall in love, want to set up their own business, and won’t accept the status quo. It’s clear they have taken a large step away from the previous generation and is more modern in its thinking. But I had a number of experiences there that prove to me that certain things run deep, and just because kids have an iPhone, it will take a while for things to change.”

Sign up for the free Miller-McCune.com e-newsletter.

“Like” Miller-McCune on Facebook.

Follow Miller-McCune on Twitter.

Add Miller-McCune.com news to your site.

Subscribe to Miller-McCune

Lewis Beale
Lewis Beale is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Newsday and many other publications.

More From Lewis Beale

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

September 1 • 1:00 PM

Television and Overeating: What We Watch Matters

New research finds fast-moving programming leads to mindless overeating.



September 1 • 6:00 AM

Why Someone Named Monty Iceman Sold Doogie Howser’s Estate

How unusual names, under certain circumstances, can lead to success.



August 29 • 4:00 PM

The Hidden Costs of Tobacco Debt

Even when taxpayers aren’t explicitly on the hook, tobacco bonds can cost states and local governments money. Here’s how.


August 29 • 2:00 PM

Why Don’t Men and Women Wear the Same Gender-Neutral Bathing Suits?

They used to in the 1920s.


August 29 • 11:48 AM

Your Brain Decides Whether to Trust Someone in Milliseconds

We can determine trustworthiness even when we’re only subliminally aware of the other person.


August 29 • 10:00 AM

True Darwinism Is All About Chance

Though the rich sometimes forget, Darwin knew that nature frequently rolls the dice.


August 29 • 8:00 AM

Why Our Molecular Make-Up Can’t Explain Who We Are

Our genes only tell a portion of the story.


August 29 • 6:00 AM

Strange Situations: Attachment Theory and Sexual Assault on College Campuses

When college women leave home, does attachment behavior make them more vulnerable to campus rape?


August 29 • 4:00 AM

Forgive Your Philandering Partner—and Pay the Price

New research finds people who forgive an unfaithful romantic partner are considered weaker and less competent than those who ended the relationship.


August 28 • 4:00 PM

Some Natural-Looking Zoo Exhibits May Be Even Worse Than the Old Concrete Ones

They’re often designed for you, the paying visitor, and not the animals who have to inhabit them.


August 28 • 2:00 PM

What I Learned From Debating Science With Trolls

“Don’t feed the trolls” is sound advice, but occasionally ignoring it can lead to rewards.


August 28 • 12:00 PM

The Ice Bucket Challenge’s Meme Money

The ALS Association has raised nearly $100 million over the past month, 50 times what it raised in the same period last year. How will that money be spent, and how can non-profit executives make a windfall last?


August 28 • 11:56 AM

Outlawing Water Conflict: California Legislators Confront Risky Groundwater Loophole

California, where ambitious agriculture sucks up 80 percent of the state’s developed water, is no stranger to water wrangles. Now one of the worst droughts in state history is pushing legislators to reckon with its unwieldy water laws, especially one major oversight: California has been the only Western state without groundwater regulation—but now that looks set to change.


August 28 • 11:38 AM

Young, Undocumented, and Invisible

While young migrant workers struggle under poor working conditions, U.S. policy has done little to help.


August 28 • 10:00 AM

The Five Words You Never Want to Hear From Your Doctor

“Sometimes people just get pains.”


August 28 • 8:00 AM

Why I’m Not Sharing My Coke

Andy Warhol, algorithms, and a bunch of popular names printed on soda cans.


August 28 • 6:00 AM

Can Outdoor Art Revitalize Outdoor Advertising?

That art you’ve been seeing at bus stations and billboards—it’s serving a purpose beyond just promoting local museums.


August 28 • 4:00 AM

Linguistic Analysis Reveals Research Fraud

An examination of papers by the discredited Diederik Stapel finds linguistic differences between his legitimate and fraudulent studies.


August 28 • 2:00 AM

Poverty and Geography: The Myth of Racial Segregation

Migration, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality (not to mention class), can be a poverty-buster.


August 27 • 4:00 PM

The ‘Non-Lethal’ Flash-Bang Grenades Used in Ferguson Can Actually Be Quite Lethal

A journalist says he was singed by a flash-bang fired by St. Louis County police trying to disperse a crowd, raising questions about how to use these military-style devices safely and appropriately.


August 27 • 2:00 PM

Do Better Looking People Have Better Personalities Too?

An experiment on users of the dating site OKCupid found that members judge both looks and personality by looks alone.


August 27 • 12:00 PM

Love Can Make You Stronger

A new study links oxytocin, the hormone most commonly associated with social bonding, and the one that your body produces during an orgasm, with muscle regeneration.


August 27 • 11:05 AM

Education, Interrupted

When it comes to educational access, young Syrian refugees are becoming a “lost generation.”


Follow us


Subscribe Now

Your Brain Decides Whether to Trust Someone in Milliseconds

We can determine trustworthiness even when we’re only subliminally aware of the other person.

Young, Undocumented, and Invisible

While young migrant workers struggle under poor working conditions, U.S. policy has done little to help.

Education, Interrupted

When it comes to educational access, young Syrian refugees are becoming a “lost generation.”

No, Smartphone-Loss Anxiety Disorder Isn’t Real

But people are anxious about losing their phones, even if they don’t do much to protect them.

Being a Couch Potato: Not So Bad After All?

For those who feel guilty about watching TV, a new study provides redemption.

The Big One

One in two full-time American fast-food workers' families are enrolled in public assistance programs, at a cost of $7 billion per year. July/August 2014 fast-food-big-one

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.