Today I saw two very different films, very different in some ways and very similar in others. Both involved rural life in the countries where they were set: India and Albania. Equally, they both were governed by very strict codes of practice, one theological and one tribal, which dramatically affected the lives of the families in the story – but the difference was that in the Indian film, Abu, Son of Adam there was mute acceptance. In The Forgiveness of Blood, there was very little in the way of forgiveness and a great deal of pent up frustration and outright bursts of extreme anger.
Abu, Son of Adam: an immaculate and heartrending film from India by the director, Salim Ahamed. An elderly couple, Abu and his wife Aisunna are planning to make the Hajj, they are old and have saved up a lot of money over the years through their small sales of Attar of Roses, schoolbooks and milk. They live in a rural village where old people walk to work or take gaudily decorated buses to town. They are respected, and indeed loved, by their neighbours so that when they are due to leave, their leave-taking, which involves asking forgiveness for any wrong doing or hurt, is filled with loving messages and brotherly love.
Preparations for the Hajj involve the couple in major sacrifices, but they are devout and willing. But the tenets of faith that govern the Hajj are harsh and merciless: Haji must not become indebted to pay for the journey; neither must they accept gifts except from a blood relation. However, these rules are not so prescriptive towards the officials who take bribes in order to facilitate the necessary paperwork.
This is a simply beautiful film and it is beautifully simple. There are many exquisite moments full of colour, and many vignettes of rural life.
I have seen many such exemplary films from India in the years I have attended the London Film Festival, sadly, very few ever get UK distribution and I fear this may be another.
The Forgiveness of Blood is a very different narrative, another rural community this time in Albania. Made by Joshua Marston (Maria, Full of Grace, 2004) it deals with a blood feud that arises from a fairly benign land access difference between two cousins. It escalates horribly into a full scale attack and the death of one of the cousins.
The Kanun, the ancient code of practice that governs Balkan law, militates that until the father is brought to justice, the rest of his family have to remain in isolation – this affects his son Nik, who is 17 and all his other children. Their uncle is in jail, but this is not sufficient for the other family and a series of terrifying incidents arise, threatening their whole way of life. Nik, frustrated by the house arrest, and who has formed a romantic attachment with a young girl from school, sneaks out from time to time at great risk; the older daughter Rudina is left to try to fulfil her mother’s duties in the family business until she too is threatened.
This is another film in which ancient tradition rubs up against the techno-savvy world of today’s youth, impatient for more opportunities.
This captivating film may get UK distribution, not because it is any better than the India film, but it has USA backing and Joseph Marston has a proven track record. The film won The Silver Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival