First-time filmmaker but established artist Titus Kaphar showed Exhibiting Forgiveness at Sundance this year. Kaphar also won ‘Director to Watch’ at the Palm Springs International Film Festival. The film stars Andre Holland (Tarrell) and Andra Day (Aisha) as a married couple who go through a rough time as they help his mother Joyce move out of her home (played by Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor). With his father La-Ron re-entering the scene (played by John Earl Jelks), Tarrell must go down a rabbit hole of grief and childhood memories.
Opening with Tarrell’s studio and painting style, the film also gives us insight into Kaphar’s unusual and stunning artistry. If unfamiliar with his work, his cutouts of actual portions of the canvas and whitewashing erasure of subjects in his work are telling of American history. Because the story is personal, Tarrell follows similar painting styles and Kaphar’s actual work is displayed in some scenes. The story’s beauty is that you do not need to know Kaphar’s artistic style to be blown away by it during this film.
The heart of the story is about a father and son relationship, following this year’s familial trend. La’Ron’s addiction and tough love attitude impacted Tarrell as a child and that comes out in an intense cycle of nightmares and other PTSD behaviors. As his trauma begins to impact his marriage and his child, Tarrell doesn’t try to heal but instead ignores his father, ignores his mother’s pleas to talk to him, and continues to unravel.
And this is where the film hits hardest, when Tarrell chooses to finally deal with the trauma and face it head on. Learning that the cycle your parents were raised in is what led you to both rebel against, but also finally see the parent as a person that was once a scared kid like you were, shows a nuanced character growth that, as a first time filmmaker, Kaphar excels at capturing. Generational trauma, art, forgiveness, self-examination are all present both on the canvas and in scenes with a child version of Tarrell reminding him of the things that remain buried within.
Lachlan Milne served as cinematographer and much like in Minari and Love and Monsters, brings a lush texture to the world. Edited by Ron Patane (Blue Valentine), Exhibiting Forgiveness, works in layers much like a painting, adding nuance to the story as it continues into the first and second act. Much like other films Patane has edited, the relentless grip of pain and suffering doesn’t let up. The toxic masculinity inherent in the addict father relationship feels honest with truthful dialogue. In the end the film reflects an artist’s soul.
– Melanie Addington (@MelAddington)
2024 Sundance Film Festival; Titus Kaphar; Exhibiting Forgiveness