The idea has been with us since humanity first forged the bonds of society, that we must use the threat of further violence to ward off the initial descent into violence, reaching its apotheosis with the Mutually Assured Destruction detente of the Cold War. Albania’s history of blood feuds may reach the same, final result as the MAD doctrine, but its canvas is wider, and of a much more deliberate and patient pace. Rather than a fell swoop, the blood feud is a grind that stretches across generations, plucking individuals one at a time, back and forth until The Why becomes a mystery, a tale told and retold, shifting across decades. The fickle and impetuous hearts of man are dangerous enough on their own. So when the shtriga (a witch birthed from the anger of a wronged mother) becomes involved, that spark of violence becomes an inferno.
BLOODLANDS is a tale of two families; one, a foursome of meat merchants, the other a ragtag group of mountain survivalists orbiting the shtriga. The father Skender is driven by pride and doubt, a patriarch all too aware that his tiny empire is crumbling from within. His pride is both the instigating event for a great reckoning and its explosive fruition, helped along by what could be the ancient magic of the witch of the mountains or might just as easily be a patient hand working on a canvas spanning a century. Multihyphenate Steven Kastrissios has crafted a visceral and rapturously beautiful film, a story that has a grand, mythic resonance that could have inspired Shakespearean drama just as easily as it could be a modern tale of horror and strife. The standout performance is Suela Bako as Skender’s wife Shprisa, a pragmatic woman capable of balancing a brusque, sometimes loutish husband alongside the ancient secrets of rites that have been hidden from the prying eyes of the modern.
Violent (including some upsetting but not gratuitous footage from an abbatoir), visionary, visually distinctive, and suffused with a sense of history moving inexorably through our modern sense of stability and civilization, BLOODLANDS is a remarkable film that should delight genre fans and arthouse patrons equally. It haunts the viewer long after it ends. Its reach is beyond the now, and it is patient.