Titus Kaphar makes an assured directorial debut with his drama “Exhibiting Forgiveness,” bringing his acclaimed painting talents to the film medium. After premiering to a rapturous reception at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the movie promises to spark conversation around themes of family, trauma, and the complexity of forgiveness.
Centered around a successful artist named Tarrell, played with dynamism by André Holland, the film tackles generational cycles of abuse and addiction. Tarrell seems to have moved past his traumatic childhood with an abusive, addict father. But when his estranged dad La’Ron (John Earl Jelks) returns newly sober and destitute, old wounds reopen.
As Tarrell copes with resurfaced memories and lingering pain, his steadfast mother Joyce (Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor) tries to heal the family. But reconciliation will not come easily after years of hurt that shaped Tarrell’s path. He turns to his art to exorcise personal demons, while struggling to break free from dysfunction for the sake of his own wife Aisha (Andra Day) and young son.
With thoughtful pacing and intimacy, Kaphar excavates this family’s buried past, confronting how patterns of harm stretch across generations. While leaving some questions unanswered, “Exhibiting Forgiveness” finds truth and catharsis in life’s jagged complexities. As Tarrell seeks elusive closure, audiences are left to ponder the film’s biggest questions around accountability, resilience and the capacity for change.
Confronting a Painful Past
At the heart of “Exhibiting Forgiveness” lies the tense reunion between Tarrell, a renowned artist enjoying career success, and his estranged father La’Ron. Though now homeless and destitute, La’Ron returns to town sober after years of crack addiction, hoping to make amends with his son after a traumatic childhood marred by abuse.
We first meet Tarrell as he wakes in panic from violent nightmares, demons from his past resurfacing. Flashbacks reveal La’Ron as a neglectful and explosively harsh father, forcing a young Tarrell into backbreaking labor and stifling emotional expression. One striking scene shows La’Ron refusing to treat Tarrell’s severely injured foot, steeling him against weakness.
While Tarrell has achieved his dream career along with a loving wife and son, he remains haunted. His latest acclaimed painting series draws directly from recurring childhood visions. When La’Ron suddenly appears looking for redemption, Tarrell struggles internally with long-buried rage.
Caught in the middle is his nostalgic mother Joyce, still undyingly devoted to La’Ron despite everything. She secretly arranges a hopeful reunion, pleading her son to open his heart. But with painful memories flooding back, forgiveness does not come easily for Tarrell.
Over the course of emotional confrontations, the film explores the tangled bonds between fathers and sons. Searing performances capture a family at a crossroads, as Tarrell seeks to protect his own young boy from intergenerational harm while grappling with accountably, resentment, and the possibility of change.
“Dive deep into the complexities of human connection with our Tell Them You Love Me review. This film challenges perceptions of consent, disability, and love, offering a nuanced exploration of a controversial real-life story.”
Examining Generational Trauma
At its core, “Exhibiting Forgiveness” focuses on the rippling impacts of multi-generational trauma within one African American family. It sends layered messages about pain passed down from fathers to sons, the chains of addiction, and society’s failures to support vulnerable communities.
Most pointedly, the film unpacks the lifelong burdens inflicted when abusive parents fail to break cycles. ThroughTarrell’s childhood memories and adult analysis sessions with his father, we witness how La’Ron’s own unhealed wounds fueled negligent parenting. The effects stretched years, as Tarrell still struggles with outbursts of anger and darkness.
In broader strokes, the story touches on intergenerational trauma – when communities face cumulative suffering over generations due to systemic discrimination. References suggest the family’s hometown offers little opportunity or support, trapping generations in poverty and dysfunction simply for being born Black in America.
Yet “Exhibiting Forgiveness” also contemplates paths forward. Tarrell channels his pain into art to prevent passing damage to his own son. He gives the boy warmth directly denied from his own childhood. Still, closure remains elusive.
Most profoundly, the film parses how forgiveness can be weaponized to silence victims versus provide genuine healing. Tarrell bristles when his religious mother instantly pardons his unrepentant father. It takes time for him to seek understanding apart from exoneration.
In the end Tarrell must weigh his father’s capacity for change against accountability for past sins. Does a toxic parent deserve a clean slate simply for being family? Can people outrun roots steeped in trauma? The film allows these layered questions to breathe without definitive answers.
Crafting Visual Poetry
While “Exhibiting Forgiveness” marks Titus Kaphar’s first directorial project, his artistic talents shine through in vivid framing and dreamlike sequences. Alongside cinematographer Lachlan Milne, he employs tight shots to capture anguish in the subtlest facial expressions.
Much credit goes to André Holland for wearing silent wounds behind a successful facade. The scenes exploring his creative process teem with sensuality, escaping into painting’s meditative flow. When the camera pulls back, the film achieves stunning tableaus – as in one shot where clasped hands of basketball players resemble sacred intimacy.
The script also shows admirable restraint, using sparse dialogue to convey depths. Sweeping orchestral strains round out the lush aural landscape.
By interweaving surreal injections, the film achieves an oneiric quality true to the strange repetitions of generational trauma. Motifs like flickering flames and encroaching darkness echo between past and present.
While not without some uneven pacing and continuity issues, “Exhibiting Forgiveness” remains visionary as a directorial debut. It announces Kaphar as equally skilled mining the medium of film to unearth nuances of the Black experience. Like his acclaimed paintings, the frames poetically rupture to reveal hidden pain and humanity.
Echoes of Shared Suffering
While centered on one family’s saga, “Exhibiting Forgiveness” subtly touches on some broader issues that give the film wider social significance. Set in an unnamed lower income Black community lacking in opportunity and resources, the story highlights the crushing effects of systemic racism over generations.
References to the criminal justice system’s harsh punishments for drug crimes also signal the tragedies born out of America’s mass incarceration epidemic and the War on Drugs. Though never heavy-handed, these grace notes remind audiences of the wider societal backdrops against which family traumas manifest and repeat.
The film’s focus stays closely on character rather than politics or preaching. But those grasping for the film’s profound sorrow may find answers in recognizing shared communal suffering among marginalized groups just out of frame. There lies insight around cycles that need correcting at every level – individual, family, community, and country – before true healing can spread.
A Triumphant Debut
For all its melancholic overtones, “Exhibiting Forgiveness” leaves a lingering hope through its compassion and willingness to sit with life’s gray areas. While not tying its narrative up neatly, the film resonates in poignant authenticity.
As a debut, Kaphar’s feature shows remarkable command of both visual craft and emotional depth. Working with a gifted ensemble cast, he peels back the layers of one family’s sorrow with care and wisdom beyond his years.
The story refuses to provide prescriptive solutions around forgiveness or healing generational wounds. Yet it opens space for viewers to feel, reflect, and begin asking better questions. Kaphar largely transcends rookie pitfalls through unity of vision and brave intimacy in his storytelling.
With its festival momentum, “Exhibiting Forgiveness” deserves attention as a bold new directorial talent and addition to the Black film canon. Both despite and because of its solemnity, this dramatic feature heralds the arrival of a director/painter ready to push cinematic boundaries. Audiences would do well to witness Kaphar’s emergence firsthand.
Carefully crafted with an astonishing command of tone and depth, "Exhibiting Forgiveness" marks the blooming of a major directorial talent in Titus Kaphar. This solemn family portrait stays focused to tell its story of generational burdens, denying the temptation for easy resolutions. What the film lacks in levity, it makes up for in textured performances and visual poetry that stuns even in darkness. While more seasoned directors might have injected moments of exposition or catharsis, Kaphar shows courage to leave narrative gaps as mysteries intrinsic to real life. Patient audiences willing to hold complexity will find rewards wrestling with this poignant debut. The film is not perfect, but its layered execution and artful composition announce Kaphar as a director worthy of anticipation in whatever he pursues next. If he continues mining his talents to spotlight overlooked stories around race and redemption, I suspect one day we'll proudly call him one of the greats.
- Powerful lead performance by André Holland
- Strong chemistry between Holland and supporting cast
- Emotionally resonant storytelling
- Thoughtful examination of complex themes like generational trauma
- Striking visual style and cinematography
- Restrained dialogue and quiet intensity
- Kaphar shows promise as director and screenwriter
- Plot leaves some questions unanswered
- Joyce's enduring love for La'Ron can seem unrealistic
- Some pacing issues and continuity problems
- Lacks levity to balance heavy subject matter
- Ending doesn't provide complete closure