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Sundance 2024 – Exhibiting Forgiveness ★★★★



Released: Sundance Film Festival (Official release TBC)

Director: Titus Kaphar

Starring: André Holland, John Earl Jelks, Andra Day, Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor

Making the smooth transition from the world of art to the big screen. Artist Titus Kaphar hypnotises audiences with Exhibiting Forgiveness, his feature-length directorial debut. Kaphar’s wish is to bridge the gap between films and the art world, demonstrating his powerful ability to do so engagingly and effectively. Inevitably, there may be comparisons made between Kaphar and Steve McQueen, who is another artist-director. Yet, Kaphar has produced a soulful, sensitive depiction, within Exhibiting Forgiveness, of the therapeutic powers of art to assist with forgiveness and generational healing in a semi-autobiographical re-enactment of family trauma.

André Holland, from Moonlight fame, shines in his role as the painter Tarrell Rodin, on the brink of becoming a rising star. He is joined by impressive supporting performances from Andra Day, as his wife Aisha and Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, as his mother Joyce. The supportive interactions between such family members provide the film’s emotional core when their comfortable routines are disrupted by the re-appearance of La’Ron, Tarrell’s father, a former addict. Exhibiting Forgiveness explores the nature of a tense father-son relationship and questions whether true forgiveness is possible when the scars of tough love parenting are sown so deeply.

Kaphar manages to avoid a predictably bleak tale of childhood neglect and harsh treatment, with surreal flashbacks interwoven with colourful artwork. Tarrell re-lives cruel episodes from his childhood, within nightmares, but empathetically presents these emotions within his paintings. Immersive, close up shots of a paintbrush slowly creating images on a blank canvas are sensual and evocative in presenting an outlet for emotional pain.

Holland’s performance as Tarrell expressively displays a range of emotions with stoicism and despair in his repertoire depicting attempts to avoid repeating the past and inflicting a new version of pain on his wife and child. Furthermore, Kaphar’s delicate approach examines the impact for an entire family as old wounds are exposed amidst the insistence that religion can help someone to change for the better. Within religious texts, there is typically an encouragement for people to forgive the wrongs that others have done. Kaphar questions the extent to which this may be possible and whether such requests should indeed be made without the confrontation of the reality of the past by an entire family.

Exhibiting Forgiveness dissects the toxic masculinity trope whilst also providing glimmers of positivity. Throughout the film, Tarrell continues to paint and grows as an artist in wishing to represent his community and the environment to which he had belonged. In this vein, the film also represents the necessity of giving back to communities so that the lessons from the past can be shared and may also provide collective healing.

Still, Kaphar has injected a degree of beauty within Exhibiting Forgiveness. There are long, slow takes, warm terracotta walls and painterly compositions alongside a soulful, moving soundtrack accompanied by Andra Day’s impressive vocals within the song ‘Bricks’. Holland had also learnt to paint within three months for the role, which lends itself to the authentic, poetic feeling pervading Exhibiting Forgiveness.

The film showcases both the work of Kaphar, with several of his paintings appearing, as well as the talent of the actors in a film emphasising healing, and the power of familial love, as its major plot. The additional quote by James Baldwin about fathers and sons further creates the film’s poetic and thoughtful tone.

However, Exhibiting Forgiveness’ impactful exploration of the impact of drug addiction within families reviews the potential for long lasting damage to future generations. Its commitment to its characters is unwavering, which permits the audience to reflect on their own experiences and the options of true forgiveness and forgetting.

Exhibiting Forgiveness is a moving, soul-stirring feature debut with painterly flair which will hopefully also encourage audiences to seek out Kaphar’s art works blending activism, which have featured on the cover of Time Magazine and within the Gagosian Gallery and the Met Museum. Similar to the film, Kaphar has developed an ongoing exhibition, influenced by his estranged father. This exhibition known as The Jerome Project studies the effects of incarceration and features at The Studio Museum in Harlem. By the end of the Sundance Film Festival, Exhibiting Forgiveness was still awaiting acquisition. Hopefully, this cathartic film will also have its moment in the spotlight to be seen by wider audiences in cinemas and on streaming platforms.

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