‘By Blood’ begins by presenting Mort-Lieu to us, but we discover him as a shadow of his former self. A ruthless leader and fierce fighter who fought countless battles in service of his country and for the glory of his house, he is now a sick old man who suffers from a severe respiratory problem that looks to be the end of him before too long. So entrenched is this thought to him and his family, that when a mysterious black-caped rider arrives just outside the castle walls and lies in wait, they believe him to be the messenger of the Grim Reaper, waiting to escort Mort-Lieu to the afterlife. Feeling his end closer than ever, the old lord ponders his life choices and the situation in which he leaves his family.
‘By Blood’ is a spectacular project, since it not only tells an interesting story about old age and hereditary powershifts, but also captures the atmosphere of the dark Middle Ages in a very illustrative fashion. We see a man who remorselessly committed many acts of violence all in the name of honor, with very little in the way of personal gain – a secluded piece of land atop a hill, surrounded by four walls. We see him judged in largely not the same way – not by the number of killings or misdemeanors, but by his strength of character and ruthlessness. All of this is presented in antithesis with his only son, apparently the heir to the family, who is an emotional, impulsive and inefficient fighter.
We won’t spoil it for you, but in case you’ve seen a few films that revolve around similar themes, you probably won’t be surprised when the time of the main turning point comes along – in fact, you’ll probably have intuited it quite a while before it actually arrives. This degree of predictability does not diminish the enjoyment of the film by any means – its philosophical points remain just as valid, while the cinematography never ceases to impress. ‘By Blood’ is beautifully shot, all the actors put in extremely nuanced and believable performances, and the action scenes are professionally executed, emanating a surprisingly heightened degree of realism.
While contexts have radically changed, and different skills are required nowadays to lead a successful life and pave the best possible way for offspring to follow, the film by Guillaume Enard and Jonathan Delerue shows us that the overarching structure on which sets of skills and relationships are built has not overseen the same massive paradigm shift. ‘By Blood’ is an impressive realization that does justice to both the era in which the film is set, and to the topic that it confronts.