Film: Fiennes and Chastain in The Forgiven




Wealth and poverty are contrasted in this film set in the hot atmosphere of the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco, and the Sahara Desert.

London couple David Henninger (Ralph Fiennes), a sardonic British surgeon and his wife Jo (Jessica Chastain, played as perhaps today’s Rita Hayworth) a has-been American novelist are driving to a lavish weekend party in a grand villa hosted by rich gay old school friends Richard  (Matt Smith) and Dally (Caleb Landry Jones).

Lost on a desert road while driving at night, drunk, and arguing with his wife David hits and kills Driss (Omar Ghazaoui), a young man who appears suddenly on the road to sell a tourist memento – a fossil mined in a desert village.



The dead boy is loaded into the car, and taken to the villa where a debauched party is raging. There he is treated as an inconvenience.  Matt says he is “a nobody from a village far away and nobody knows who he is” and, “not to worry, I know the officer in charge. It will be a formality”. And the police treat the death as an accident.

David refuses to accept responsibility saying that the boy is to blame, and the party continues while observant Muslim servants, whose incomes depend on their jobs, silently watch the party goers drinking alcohol, taking drugs and behaving in a manner not tolerated in their community.



The next day when the boy’s father Ishmael Kanater (Adellah Tahen) arrives to take charge of the body of his only son, he demands that David follow the local custom and attend the burial at the village.

David assumes his refusal would cause trouble and agrees to go to the village in a show of atonement. He thinks Ishmael will want money, and there is a good chance that he won’t return – “it could be a trap set by ISIS terrorists”.



The arduous journey is journey is taken with the help of Anovar (Said Taghmaoui) who acts as driver and translator, and gradually David comes to understand the consequences of his actions.

Great acting in a complicated role from Ralph Fiennes and the rest of the cast – and well-written dialogue from writer/director John Michael McDonagh leave much to think about in this world of social inequality, racism, privilege and cultural tourism.

117 minutes.

Now showing at Luna Leederville and Luna SX Fremantle.


Watch the trailer…