Chinese 6, 11/6/2011, 6:15 PM
THE FORGIVENESS OF BLOOD
Chinese 3, 11/6/2011, 7:00 PM
Egyptian-Spielberg, 11/8/2011, 10:00 PM
By Kenneth Morefield
It is fitting that ten years after September 11, 2001, a pair of films depicting life in foreign countries can remind us how similar are the problems, longings and fears of people from different cultures, how fear is not the same thing as evil, and how righteousness is not the same as justice. There are no winners and losers in THE FORGIVENESS OF BLOOD or A SEPARATION, only survivors who are marginally more or less damaged by the choices they have to make.
Asghar Farhadi’s A SEPARATION is a riveting domestic drama that works equally well as character study or social critique. An ensemble cast without a weak link helps illustrate an infuriating—at times almost despair inducing—culture where a caretaker has to call a religious hotline to confirm whether or not it is a sin to change the pants of an elderly Alzhiemer’s patient who has wet himself, and where a woman who applies for a job without her husband’s permission can face legal sanctions.
Viewers maybe be used to scathing, implicit critiques from contemporary Iranian films but what separates A SEPARATION from films like OFFSIDE, WHEN BUDDHA COLLAPSED FROM SHAME, or MY TEHRAN FOR SALE is the way that it manages to have empathy for men and women, rich and poor alike, showing how good people caught in a web of harsh circumstances can eventually succumb to accumulated pressures created by just trying to survive. Evil lies less in the human heart than in the structures that compel people to harden themselves lest their best instincts be exploited.
The heart of the movie may be in a scene where the daughter attempts to understand how her parents, her father especially, must wrestle with shades of gray in a culture that only sees sin and white (and punishes accordingly). As the ripples of the internal separation continue, nearly every character is forced to draw and test the lines where personal integrity meet unfair, at times horrific, circumstances.
Joshua Marston’s THE FORGIVENESS OF BLOOD may be more muted in its criticism of culture, at least tonally, than is A SEPARATION, but it shares with Farhadi’s film the intergenerational cast of characters that allows it to explore how cultural traditions get imposed on—and eventually passed to—the young.
Set in Albania, the film introduces viewers to a world that is in many ways a hodgepodge of the modern and the ancient. Dad still delivers bread to local consumers via horse-drawn cart, but the kids play video games on console systems and send video messages to one another via the newest cellular phones. At first it appears as though the old ways and the new coexist fairly well, but when the patriarch of the family resolves a feud, Kanun (a set of oral laws dating back centuries) takes precedence over civil or political laws and influences the day-to-day life of the community members.
The theme of parental violence enmeshing and entrapping the young will draw inevitable comparisons to last year’s indie darling, WINTER’S BONE, but emotionally THE FORGIVENESS OF BLOOD more resembles Marston’s feature film debut, MARIA FULL OF GRACE. It shares with that film a more detached, documentary-like curiosity in the logistics of the system being portrayed. How are intermediaries selected? Under what conditions are temporary amnesties (“besas”) offered and revoked? What happens when traditional gender roles are reversed? (Rudina comes home from a long day of “work” to chastise Nik for making a mess in the family home. Nik, by default, must try to nurture his younger brother who is caught at home with him.)
Kenneth R. Morefield is an Associate Professor of English at Campbell University in Buies Creek, NC. He is the editor of and a contributor to Faith and Spirituality in Masters of World Cinema, Volumes I and II (2008, 2011, Cambridge Scholars Publishing). He is also the editor and founder of 1More Film Blog.