David J Stern
David J Stern
It shouldn't shock most people that losing a daughter in a tragic accident would cause anyone untold amounts of grief. In such situations, most people never fully recover. They say it gets easier not to live with, but accept, as time marches on. Time dulls pain and although not a cure for all, it certainly helps. But also true is what happens if you tip the scale the other direction. Time can also cause pain to grow and fester, slowly decimating any emotions that are not anger or grief related. The pain of losing a child can never be explained unless experienced, and "The Forgiving" demonstrates this with its portrayal of Avi, a man completely destroyed by the loss of his daughter.
David J. Stern's film takes place a long while after his daughter has died. The film's first act is a medley of anger, grief, and pure pain both at himself and at his ex-wife Beth. She wants him to gather the personal things he wants to keep from their old home, and Avi is reluctant. Just another nail in his upcoming coffin - because the god honest truth is that Avi intends to die. He's literally spiraled downwards in every respect, and with the loss of his current job in the can, he's ready to give in to his emotions. Avi detours from his supposed trip to the old house, and goes to his summer home to further contemplate ending things. It's here, along with the ghosts of his past - he must decide once and for all what to do. Will Avi's grief and despair finally and completely defeat his moral objections to suicide? You'll simply have to watch the film to find out - but I can say this. Although perhaps a little long-winded, this is an excellent independent, micro-budget film for those who love the thinking person's drama. Of that, there is no question.
First and foremost, the acting within "The Forgiving" is really exceptional. John Gerald Healy as Avi oozes the grief and despair called upon to make this film work. It's nothing over the top, and this approach really worked well. It's not hard to fall into Healy's performance, and he's not alone. The equally grief-stricken Beth, played by Jenna Sokolowski, is as much different as it is the same. She's portrayed as a woman who has really tried to live with both her grief and the grief of her husband - to no avail. It's all very heartbreaking, to say the least. I also enjoyed the character of Renata. To actually quote the film, she is Avi's muse. Emily Classen nailed the part as both a worrisome, playful, and yes, even a little creepy of a character. I won't comment further on her role; again, see for yourself.
As for the actual story and pacing, "The Forgiving" is just as I've described above - with a heaping helping of religion and even questions of free will - thrown in for good measure. It's truly a very smart and complicated script - and those very qualities help make it slightly jumpy with its pacing - and a tad bit confusing. Never so much that you can't follow along, and have everything make sense by the end - but it does ride the line at times. "The Forgiving" is also a long film, perhaps a little too long. I couldn't help but think the actual length felt a little stretched out because of how jumpy the film is. The very thing that gives this movie its teeth also makes it feel extra long. I can honestly say that had this film been fifteen or twenty minutes shorter - the pacing probably would have felt perfect.
The simple way to close off this write up is to say that David J Stern and his troupe have delivered a winner. As I wrote above, this film is excellently performed - and smart to boot. My teeny, tiny, gripe about the length is really a non-issue because even if "The Forgiving" were a little longer, it would still be a great film. It looks good, it sounds good, and it simply worked. What else is there? Three and a half stars.