Forgive Us Our Debts

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
Forgive Us Our Debts Movie Poster Image
Dark Italian drama has some violence, cursing.
  • NR
  • 2018
  • 104 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

No positive messages. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

No positive role models. 

Violence

Man commits suicide by jumping off a stairwell at a high point; his body is briefly shown falling and there's the sound of the landing, nothing else seen. Some characters beaten with rods and sticks for having delinquent debts. 

Sex

Man leers and makes sexist comments about a server. 

Language

"F--k," "s--t," "crap," "dumbasses," "bastards." 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Whiskey, beer, wine, and cocktail drinking. Cigarette smoking. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Forgive Us Our Debts is a 2018 Italian drama in which an unemployed man deep in debt takes a job working for a collections agency that employs extreme methods to collect. There's some violence, including the suicide of a man who leaps to his death in a stairwell -- he's briefly shown falling and the landing is heard, but the rest isn't shown. One of the methods the debt collection agents use to collect is to casually approach the debtor at night when he's alone outside in an isolated area and beat him at least once (sometimes several times) with a rod or stick while telling him to pay his debts. Some profanity, including "f--k." Drinking and cigarette smoking. The movie is in Italian with English subtitles. 

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What's the story?

Guido (Claudio Santamaria) is in a rut in FORGIVE US OUR DEBTS. He has just lost his warehouse job, lives alone, and is buried in debt. As if this wasn't bad enough, one night while walking home to his apartment, a man working for his creditor approaches him, strikes him in the leg with a rod, and orders him to pay off his debts. Unable to do so, Guido goes to the collection agency and offers a solution: He will work for the collections agency, stalking debtors until they have paid back what they owe, working for them until he has paid off what he owes. The collections agency agrees, and Guido is paired with Franco (Marco Giallini), the same man who struck Guido in the leg. Under Franco's tutelage, Guido learns the many ways in which the delinquent debts are collected: through public shaming, stalking, assaulting, and emotional manipulation. To his and Franco's surprise, Guido finds that he has a knack for the job and continues working even after he has paid off his debts. But as time goes on, Guido finds that he lacks Franco's willingness to shrug off the moral and ethical ambiguities of the job, especially after witnessing the suicide of a debtor and Franco's needlessly cruel treatment of debtors who are otherwise good people, and when they are sent to harass a close friend of Guido's who once lent him money during a trying time. Guido must decide if he should stick with the job because of the good money or walk away. 

Is it any good?

This movie is an understated drama in which a man's financial fortune rises as his moral compass begins to fade away. This man, Guido, unemployed and struggling under the weight of crushing debt, takes on work as a debt collector for the very agency trying to collect his debt. The plan is to work for them until the debt is paid. As he learns the tricks of the trade, the audience is also given a crash course in how debt is collected in Italy: through public shaming, physical assault, and emotional cruelty. It makes the annoying phone calls of creditors in the States seem downright pleasant by comparison. While Guido's partner, the successful and savvy Franco, is able to rationalize the morally gray areas in the work, Guido cannot. What emerges is an excellent study of characters trapped in a system that doesn't seem to be doing anyone except the wealthy any good, and the desperate lengths people will go to to survive in the post-capitalist world. 

Forgive Us Our Debts is a very good film, but it's not a great film. What prevents it from being truly great is its almost-desperate attempt to make sure that the audience understands the overall point. That lack of subtlety is jarring. For instance, scenes in a Catholic church in which Franco recites the Lord's Prayer don't tell us anything we don't already know about the title, the theme of the movie, and Franco's moral ambiguity. A snooker game in which the balls on the table are compared to industries and countries and their relative power feels belabored and stylized. And bar talk about contemporary Italian society tells us nothing new. And yet, it's still a worthwhile movie and a fascinating exploration of the lines between right and wrong in a system where such lines seem to exist only on paper. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about movies with opposite characters. How are the two lead characters in Forgive Us Our Debts opposites of each other? How does this heighten the tension and drama of the story? What are some other examples of movies with opposite characters? 

  • What are some of the ways in which the movie explores themes of moral ambiguity? 

  • How do you think this movie would be different had it been made in Hollywood? 

Movie details

  • On DVD or streaming: May 4, 2018
  • Studio: Netflix
  • Genre: Drama
  • Run time: 104 minutes
  • MPAA rating: NR

For kids who love dramas

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