On streaming services, the premiere of the film “Forgiven” somehow imperceptibly passed. Its director John Michael McDonagh became famous as the author of magnificent works about the life of the Irish outback. “Once Upon a Time in Ireland” and “Calvary” were full of dark humor and longing and are very similar to each other. In 2016, the film “War Against All” about American policemen was released. The picture was clearly inferior to the previous works of the author and failed at the box office (collected less than a million dollars). And now the new work has seen the light.
It is unusual for an author. For the first time, the director made a film based on someone else’s text: “Forgiven” is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Lawrence Osborne, but the script was written by McDonagh himself. Starring Ralph Fiennes (Voldemort from Harry Potter), Jessica Chastain (Interstellar), Said Tugmaoui (Hatred).
American couple, oncologist David, and children’s writer Jo, are visiting Morocco for a vacation. Their old friends from England have long lived near the Sahara and regularly hold noisy parties that attract European bohemians. On their way to the party, David and Joe run over a teenager who runs into the road. Influential friends help avoid problems with the police. But a day later, the father of the murdered child arrives at the place of the party and demands that the person who knocked down his son take part in the funeral. And David goes to the village in the company of Berbers, while his wife is having fun at a party.
The film shows different types of discrimination
The protagonist both externally and internally puts himself in the position of a white master. He does not care about the customs and practices adopted in the place where he ended up: he looks at everything through the prism of cynicism. The death of a Berber evokes a minimum of emotion in him. He refuses to go to the village for the funeral until the last, but when he finds out that the child’s name is Driss, he changes his mind. On the one hand, the name indicates that this is not an abstract dead man, but a person. On the other hand, the hero hears a European name. It is at this moment that he is ready to give up prejudice and banal racism.
There is a lot of racism in the script. Colonial (“They are not people, they are savages”), enlightenment (“They do not understand anything, we will explain”), modern (“I will worry about their rights more than they do, but I will not do anything, and they should thank me” ). Heroes easily switch from one type (or angle) of discrimination to another and do not notice it – unlike the locals, who constantly feel arrogance and falsehood on the part of their interlocutors.
I must say that “Forgiven” offers an interesting optics for discrimination. John Michael McDonagh tries to study the phenomenon through the personal perception of individual characters, and the characters are cynical and selfish. The characters know the common truths about the inadmissibility of discrimination, but are ready to follow them only in words, internally they perceive people of a different race as strange slaves .
Heroes do not want to take collective responsibility
It is easy to see the general symbolism of colonial history in the actions of the protagonist. The murder of a child (that is, the future), unwillingness to take the blame and arrogance – the personal is easily scaled. Half of the film seems to be a kind of recognition of the mistakes of past generations, an attempt to take responsibility for them. However, this is John Michael McDonagh, who does not like to play with global problems.
The director throws the banal “I don’t want this” into the story as a motivation for the characters. The main character does not want to take responsibility for the murder, his wife does not want to be responsible for her husband. Are they to blame? Yes. Do they feel guilty? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. In principle, they are so mired in cynicism and lies that someone’s death does not make the world turn upside down. In part, this is reminiscent of Albert Camus’s The Outsider, where the murder of an Arab did not evoke emotions in the hero.
Dialogue complicates characters
McDonagh once again wrote a rather dry script, where there is only dialogue. It contains the minimum amount of information about the characters – they appear abruptly, mention a couple of facts about their lives along the way, and then just live. Where another director would insert a flashback, McDonagh adds dialogue about something insignificant – and yet the characters are revealed. In fact, this is a master class on the topic “How to make a whole character only from lines.”
I must say that John Michael McDonagh is a great master of writing dialogues with a unique style. His characters are characterized by rudeness and harshness. It’s hard to think of a single character from his films who would be polite. “Forgiven” continues this line. There are religious, sexist, racist jokes in the film. If you really want to be offended, feel free to turn on the “Forgiven”.
Actors decorate an interesting script
Ralph Fiennes plays a cynical and nervous oncologist who loves alcohol more than his wife. However, he is not hopelessly mired in hatred and suffering. The result is a controversial character, and Fiennes easily copes with him. The actor is convincing in dramatic moments and incredible in comedy. Of course, I remember his hero from ” Lie low in Bruges ” – funny, cruel and extremely honest. He is a lot like David.
Jessica Chastain looks even brighter, playing a woman who does not understand what she wants from life. Surprisingly, Chastain changes nonstop throughout the film. She is both a boring children’s writer, and a liberated sexual woman, and an egoist, and worried about people – the amplitude of oscillations is gigantic. And the actress copes with each of her incarnations. Her game looks especially good against the background of Ralph Fiennes – his character is colder.
Director tries new visuals
John Michael McDonagh has never been a big aesthete and fan of complex camera work. However, in Forgiven, he enters this territory. And it turns out too uneven.
For example, McDonagh easily draws the boundaries between Europeans and Africans – the most excellent work of costume designers is shown. The clothes of Europeans are either white or colored – but they are always bright. The Berbers, on the other hand, wear grey-brown overalls, always covered in dust. Europeans look down on people – a raised chin, a confident look, indifference. Berbers constantly look under their feet. Sometimes they squat, and whites do not approach the sand at all.
At the same time, McDonagh could not create a feeling of unbearable heat. If you’ve seen The Profession of a Reporter by Michelangelo Antonioni, you know what it looks like. The hero of Jack Nicholson in the desert spoke slowly, constantly sweated (literally shone), and fatigue was felt in the eyes of the characters. Such things are conveyed in hundreds and thousands of small details, this should be done by the entire director’s team. But McDonagh misses this point.
The desert, the heat, the scorching sun – all this turns out to be a mere decoration, nothing more. Heroes constantly repeat words like “Oh, how hot!”, But it’s too simple. Especially when Jessica Chastain says it with perfect makeup.
MacDona is changing and getting harder
He made three films, and they all looked alike. When watching “War Against All” it even seems that the director began to drown in self-repetitions.
“Forgiven” shows a brand new McDonagh. If you do not know the name of the director, you can decide that this is a film by Paolo Sorrentino. Bohemian hangouts, statically lined shots and complete indifference to life – this is more of a “Great Beauty” than “Once Upon a Time in Ireland”.
“Forgiven” is going beyond the limits outlined by the director himself at the dawn of his career. He abandoned Ireland as the main setting back in the film “War Against All”, now he plays with complex shots, a global agenda and even eroticism. In previous films by John Michael, sex appeared only as a comic element. Now Jessica Chastain is responsible for the sex in the film. Her passion and energy go beyond the cinematography or the script.
Films and series about discrimination are regularly shown in cinemas and on streaming services – many have had enough of this topic. In this situation, it is difficult to speak in an original way. John Michael McDonagh focused on who discriminates, and at the same time did not divide the heroes into good and bad. This approach perfectly demonstrates the reasons why it is impossible to give simple answers to complex questions. We see heroes with internal contradictions. David is a racist? Yes, but he has a lot of personal problems, he just has no time to deal with his shortcomings. Is he ready to take the blame for the murder? Yes and no. He rushes from agreement to disagreement, from empathy to indifference. Heroes from different cultures cannot understand each other largely because they do not know what they themselves want. In this context, the film goes far beyond the relationship between people from different worlds – it is about communication as such.
Despite the rough edges, John Michael McDonagh has produced a complex and interesting picture that is a joy to watch. Three-dimensional characters and excellent dialogue allow the film to balance on the verge of drama and black comedy.
And you can see the picture simply because of Jessica Chastain. She is always great, “Forgiven” is no exception.
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