Directed by Hezreel Robertson
Written by Hezreel Robertson and Cedric Robertson
Starring Jonathan Berry, Rayna Anderson
A fulfilled life is full of choices. Those choices can lead us to the highest mountain tops or the lowest valleys. When we find ourselves in the proverbial “fork-in-the-road,” we are faced with more choices: do we meet our challenge or do we succumb to them. Inevitably, choices lead us to an ultimate conclusion, a theme explored in Hezreel Robertson’s powerful short film, Forlorning, now in contention for the San Francisco Black Film Festival.
Robertson, who co-wrote the Forlorning screenplay with Cedric Robertson, looks at the “ultimate conclusion” from its beginnings and explores the psychological impact on Neal Bateman (Jonathan Berry) as he reels over the death of his wife.
Forlorning is shot in a single location, isolating Neal and the audience to his suffering, a dysfunction referred to as complicated grief. To understand Neal’s pain, Robertson takes us back to the start of his emotional descent as he describes his life with his wife, his love for his wife, and his desire to protect his wife. As he says the words into a phone, he seeks hopeless absolution for a sin, for a choice.
By isolating Neal to the confines of his living room, trash carelessly abandoned, we get a sense of his hopelessness. The camera follows Neal around the room, sometimes steady, other times as shaky as Neal must feel; Robertson gets into our heads just as much as Neal is inside of his head.
The story works not just because of Berry’s emotionally strong performance. Robertson makes sure not to completely isolate Neal as he takes a call from his sister, Katheryn (Rayna Anderson). Their conversation compels us to think about how we would react in this situation, given that we are already in Neal’s head, she tries to remind Neal and, by extension, we of his worldly obligations.
The story toys around with the suffering of those left behind. Forlorning examines the past, present, and future simultaneously, using pain as a consequence of choice, suggesting that suicide is a choice. Complicated grief drives Neal toward his destiny.
Within that, though, is a striking visual contrast that Robertson struck: laying among the ruins of a past life, a hopeless future, and a cacophony of voices drowning out the world, Neal is wearing a perfectly pressed white t-shirt contrasted with a pair of black slacks. The white t-shirt represents a cleansing image: “I am not willingly committing this act, but I understand its symbolism.” The black pants represent the lingering thoughts of a life of hell if Neal obliges his sister, acceding to his worldly obligations, a choice.
The stark, cleansing nature of the t-shirt against the obsidian depths of the slacks is perhaps the most brilliant symbolic moment I’ve witnessed in a 2020 film; it is a layer that adds another complexity to an already painful frame of mind.
Now a part of the virtual San Francisco Black Film Festival, Forlorning is Highly Recommended. It is a painful subject to be a witness to, but the intimacy with which Hezreel Robertson shot his film reminds us that we need to be there for each other; no one should ever be alone.