BERLIN (Reuters) - "The Forgiveness of Blood" is a new film exploring centuries-old oral traditions that govern how some families in Albania settle their blood feuds to this day.
Modern clashes with medieval in U.S. director Joshua Marston's powerful movie, which has its premiere at the Berlin film festival on Friday.
It is the last of 16 competition films to be screened at the annual cinema showcase, and early critical reaction suggests it could be in the running for awards at the festival's closing ceremony on Saturday.
The Forgiveness of Blood centres on a family living in rural Albania which is drawn into a dispute with a nearby clan over access to land.
When the feud ends in murder, the aggrieved party imposes the harsh rules of the Kanun, a 15th century Balkan code that gives it the right to kill a male member of the offending family in retribution.
Rather than a simple eye-for-an-eye, other rules can be applied through the code which is not officially recognized in Albanian law, according to the filmmakers, but which has been imposed nonetheless.
At the center of the feud governed by adults' anger, pride, ignorance and intransigence is Nik, a 17-year-old who is no longer allowed to leave home for fear of being killed, his seven-year-old brother and Rudina, his 15-year-old sister.
Rudina is allowed out, and turns adversity into opportunity by finding extra sources of income as she seeks to support the family single-handed. But for Nik life becomes a nightmare, as opportunities for friendship, love and success pass him by.
"For me it's a story about a conflict between generations and a conflict between the old and the new," Marston told reporters in Berlin after a press screening.
The director, whose 2004 debut feature was the acclaimed "Maria Full of Grace," said the key image for him was of a 21st century boy sending text messages and playing video games in captivity in his home thanks to 15th century rules.
"He's a modern boy who's had his life disrupted by something completely old."
Marston traveled to Albania with Albanian scriptwriter and guide Andamion Murataj to research the Kanun, meeting families locked in such feuds and living in isolation.
One family was stuck in a blood feud for 15 years, the sons had never gone to school and did not dare venture further than their front yard.
The practice of Kanun virtually disappeared under Communism, which moved to stamp it out, but it has returned as Albania struggles to emerge as a modern and prosperous democracy.
Actor Refet Abazi, who plays the father on the run, said the film had an important message of the need for forgiveness.
"The Kanun still exists in Albania," he said, speaking through an interpreter. "It is somewhere in people's minds.
"The film must get us to think about the Kanun, how to deal with it and to ask questions. Nik belongs to a completely different generation ... and this is the generation that we must look at and the generation that must slowly forget the Kanun."
Marston said that the long seven-year gap between his two feature films had been partly the result of the financial crisis, which saw potential funding withdrawn and dissuaded producers from backing movies about tough subjects.
Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato