Explores the reverberations of a random accident on the lives of both the local Muslims, and Western visitors to a house party at a grand villa in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco over a single weekend.
‘The Forgiven’ is the first film in 6 years from Irish director John Michael McDonagh, who alongside his brother Martin, have produced some of the best black comedies of the past 15 years. Whilst retaining some characteristics of a black comedy, in many respects ‘The Forgiven’ marks a departure for McDonagh, being his first movie based on a novel and having an altogether more serious topic at its heart (although to be fair, ‘Calvary’, his best film, can be pretty bleak). At its heart the film is about privilege and how it manifests, and more laterally about the nature of revenge, retribution and atonement, and I felt ‘The Forgiven’ touched on those aspects well in what was a compelling movie.
It centres on a couple whose marriage is on the rocks, David (Ralph Fiennes) and Jo (Jessica Chastain), who are travelling across Morocco for a weekend of eating and drinking at their friends mansion. En route, partly due to their arguing and largely due to David’s drink driving, they accidentally hit and kill a local teenager who had stepped out on the road to attempt to sell them a fossil. The film then follows the aftermath of this tragedy, in one strand following David who is compelled to travel to the boy’s village with his grieving father to demonstrate his ‘honour’, and in another following the events at the mansion where a series of obnoxious white people live in decadence whilst being attended to by the Moroccan servants. That juxtaposition between the garishness of the party and David’s journey into a part of Morocco rarely seen by tourists (or ‘infidels’ as the locals refer to them) works well and allows McDonagh to explore its themes in greater depth – as David starts to reckon with his actions, the remainder of the group, isolated from the ‘real’ world, are able to forget that a young boy was killed.
The performances are particularly enjoyable, with Matt Smith the standout of the supporting cast as the pretentious host of the party Richard. He’s a man steeped in privilege which often manifests in the way he (and his guests) speak about the locals, even right in front of them, wilfully ignorant of the fact they are visitors in this land. Fiennes is also great and his transformation is the most interesting, perhaps driven by the guilt he feels, but that is only fully coaxed out once he is removed from his ‘circle’ and is forced into spending time with the young boy’s father and a couple of companions (Saïd Taghmaoui, who plays the English speaking Anouar, is most prominent). McDonagh gradually builds up the darkness and there’s an underlying tension in how David’s arc will play out, and this part is the most interesting aspect of the story. Your tolerance for spending a lot of time with dislikeable characters will likely dictate how you find the rest – for me, it was an important contrast, if lacking the punch and depth of David’s journey.
‘The Forgiven’ is an intriguing movie from John Michael McDonagh which muses successfully on moral issues that will have you pondering them long after the film has ended, and I thought it was well made with a sharp script and some top performances from its ensemble cast.
Directed By: John Michael McDonagh
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Jessica Chastain, Matt Smith, Caleb Landry Jones, Christopher Abbott, Saïd Taghmaoui, Abbey Lee, Alex Jennings, Mourad Zaoui, Ismael Kanater and Marie-Josée Croze