Many years after his successful, Oscar-nominated 2004 feature debut, “Maria Full of Grace,” Los Angeles filmmaker Joshua Marston found himself in Albania making his second film.
Powerful and intelligent, “The Forgiveness of Blood,” which won a best screenplay award at the Berlin Film Festival and opens today, is about blood feuds. In Albania, conflicts over land and/or money often result in a blood feud — a situation wherein members of all families involved must stay sequestered in their homes until a truce is reached.
Marston, 43, frustrated after several aborted attempts to make movies in Hollywood, became fascinated with the topic after reading an article about it, and began researching and studying the Albanian language.
Once there, he began a long casting process, looking for the perfect teen to play his lead character Nik, whose budding social life is squashed when his father unexpectedly enters into a feud.
“One of the things that’s appealing about this film, is that by virtue of it being small-scale and low-budget, there’s no question of trying to get American movie stars to speak Albanian,” said Marston, recently in The City promoting the film.
Over the course of several months, he saw some 3,000 teens. He admits he got discouraged.
“But at the same time, it was also an extra phase in the research. It was a chance for me to talk to teenagers about what it’s like to be a teenager in Albania,” he says.
While many Albanians he met were excited about an American director coming to make a movie in their country, Marston says they also understandably were concerned about representation and authenticity.
“The irony was that because I was not Albanian, I was asking questions that an Albanian might not have bothered to ask,” he says.
An extra challenge: He wanted the movie to play to Albanian as well as American audiences, which meant he would have to provide enough information for newcomers, but not overexplain to those familiar with blood feuds.
“What’s interesting is that there are lots of Albanian movies about blood feuds, they’re like Westerns. And there’s a place for that, but why not open the field of vision on a given subject matter?” he asks.
Wisely, in not attempting to solve particular issues or offer his own strong opinions, Marston brings generosity and humanity to “The Forgiveness of Blood.”
“I’m not interested in telling people how to think or how to come out on a given problem,” he says. “What I’m interested is raising the question.”
IF YOU GO
Starring Tristan Halilaj, Sindi Lacej
Written by Joshua Marston, Andamion Murataj
Directed by Joshua Marston
Running time 1 hour 49 minutes