Forgiveness (2021)

Forgiveness has its world première at FrightFest

In the ‘prologue’ (formally labelled as such) to Forgiveness, written and directed by Alex Kahuam (So You Want To Be A Gangster?, 2018), three visibly upset women – Camila (Alejandra Toussaint), Magnea (Jessica Ortiz) and Aisha (Alejandra Zaid) – shoot a hog-tied and gagged man (Andres De La Mora) multiple times with a hand gun, in an act of collective, ritualised revenge, before a gang of armed men bursts in. This, and an epilogue, are all that anchors the film to a narrative reality, while the three chapters in between, each named after one of the women and tracking her movements, represent a more abstract arena where their psychological and spiritual states are staged as nightmarish fugue.

Each of these chapters begins with one of the three women waking up in what appears to be a semi-abandoned hospital with her ability – respectively – to speak, hear or see removed, and navigating these strange interior spaces while trying to avoid a parade of strange, occasionally monstrous or even murderous characters whom they encounter along the way. The immediacy and intimacy of cinematographer Diego Cacho’s fluid long takes (only one or two near invisible cuts per half-hour episode) may give the impression of realism, but this is quickly offset by the increasingly dream-like irrationality of these women’s adventures, which shift from porn shoots to vampiric massacres to romantic waltzes to masked gang bangs to superheroic fights, even as our three women all seem stuck in an infernal loop from which there can ultimately be no escape, no matter how much Aisha prays to Jesus or Camila blasts her assailants. 

Forgiveness is like a lo-fi version of Zack Snyder‘s Sucker Punch (2011) – except that here the fantasy into which these three women retreat affords them even less agency, let alone empowerment, in unendurable circumstances. Any healing or recovery that the hospital setting might suggest is a mirage, while the forgiveness promised by the title proves similarly illusory. For Kahuam is painting a bleak portrait of entrapment, in a closed patriarchal system into whose perpetuation every son – even the good ones – can easily be co-opted. Like any film set mostly in the corridors of the mind, this takes us on a meandering, somewhat repetitive and finally circular journey whose length and pace viewers may question – but it is an oblique reimagining of the unimaginable, enabling the three heroines, and us with them, to come to terms with their harrowing impasse.

strap: Alex Kahuam’s psychodrama sends three trapped women on a vain hospital-set fugue in search of a cure from patriarchy

© Anton Bitel