It may be the present day in Albania where even the rural teenagers text each other on cellphones every day, but some of the customs that still dictate how families must conduct themselves date back centuries. The older generation accepts this willingly but it’s tougher on young people who are full of life and energy and who do not want the past to ruin their futures.
This story is about one such family headed up by Mark who does a daily bread round in his dilapidated horse-drawn covered cart. One day as he takes his usual short cut, one his family has done for generations, he discovers that Sokol his hot-headed neighbor has barred the way and now demands that he never cross his land again. Later that night Mark and his brother return to have it out with Sokol, and a fight ensues and Sokol ends up being killed. Even though it is an act of self-defense, Mark feels certain that he will not get a fair hearing in the town as Sokol’s cousin is a local policeman, so he and his brother go into hiding.
Now there is an Albanian code named Kanun that dictates that a member of the family guilty of murder must himself be jailed or killed. Mark’s brother is caught and jailed, but as Mark is still free, this means that members of Sokol’s family can kill his entire family if they set one foot outside their house at any time. It is however a patriarchal culture where women are very much second class and don't count, which for once is a blessing as unlike all the males in the family, they are in no danger at all.
Besides the mother, the family consists of four children, Rudina a teenage girl who comes into her own after she is forced to leave school, and take over her father’s bread round; a much younger girl and boy, the latter of which must miss school to remain safe; and then there is the oldest son 16 year old Nik who bitterly resents being trapped in the house all day and unable to hang out with his mates and court his potential new girlfriend.
The older male relatives of the family led by Mark’s father meet often to thrash out how and when they can send a mediator to Sokol’s family to bring an end to the feud, but tradition demands that the family must be able to get satisfaction for their loss before even this can happen.
This tale of retribution is a remarkable reminder of how in cultures such as this, clinging to the past for dealing with daily rural life sits so uneasy with contemporary morality. That a father can accept and insist his family must face indefinite imprisonment in their own home without question because he was ‘defending their honor’, is a hard one to swallow. And definitely far too big a demand for young Nik to be able to accept, no matter how much he loves his family.
This refreshing wee film with its eye opening tale was filmed in Albania using non-profesional actors which gave such an overwhelming sense of reality to the telling of this story. Co-written and directed by the American filmmaker James Marston, who also made the excellent ‘Maria Full Of Grace’ , about the reality of a woman forced to be a drug mule to survive in another very backward culture : that one he shot in Spanish, whilst this one he shot in Albanian. Impressive!
Its one of those quiet understated movies that tells an interesting story really well but for some reason another slips under most people’s radar, and yet it deserves a bigger audience as it really is very good.
Not that it will make you want to dash off to Albania any time in the very near future ……!