From the opening sequences, in which crackpot mental-hospital patient Moni Moshonov holds a skull aloft and quotes extensively from Hamlet while a catatonic soldier slumps against a tree in the background, Forgiveness feels like a high-concept stage play, the kind of well-meant but pretentious project where grand themes are worked out in a claustrophobic setting among a small cast. While Israeli-born director Udi Aloni (Local Angel) opens up the settings to include location shooting in New York City and Israel, and operates with a complicated timeline, he never shakes that feeling of a small, crowded stage.
Itay Tiran plays the son of Auschwitz survivor Michael Sarne, whose meek mixed guilt and pride in his heritage drives Tiran to a defiantly single-minded Zionism: He picks a fight at a Middle East peace rally, gets the star of David tattooed on his chest, moves to Israel to enlist in the army, and feels baffled when he's attracted to a Palestinian woman in a nightclub. Then something happens that leaves him catatonic; the audience gets the story relatively early, but even after a radical drug treatment brings hi out of his stupor, Tiran still has a hole in his memory. Back in New York, he takes up with Palestinian fashion designer Clara Khoury, but he's haunted by what may be literal ghosts: The asylum where he recovered was built atop a destroyed Palestinian village, and the residents massacred there are said to communicate with the patients.
There's more than a little of Lars von Trier's The Kingdom in that premise, complete with Moshonov as the fey gatekeeper clinging to his hospital berth so he can pass messages between the living and the dead. Aloni also effectively evokes Atom Egoyan in his sweet, sad, surreal exploration of memory, trauma, and collective complicity. But while his Egoyan-esque tone and colorful visuals are striking, he belabors his complicated points about Israeli guilt and Palestinian victimhood with heavy-handed symbolism, throwing in overwrought dreams and some unnecessary flimflammery involving a fortuneteller and a magical key. Moshonov's capering, wheedling, and stagey monologuing become deeply taxing, and so does the conclusion, which makes more sense as metaphor than narrative. Aloni's ideas are solid, but possibly too large and pointed to cram within fragile human flesh.