Herman is a grieving widower who has been lost since his wife died. A gifted craftsman, he spends much of his time in his workshop, working on a big project.
Despite the kindness of his neighbors or the concern of his pastor, Herman can’t seem to shake his profound depression. And when he gets a visit from his neighbor Meredith, his friends and loved ones realize he’s building a coffin for himself to join his wife in the afterlife. She then returns to Herman with a surprising question, which spins Herman into an unexpected direction.
Directed by Sanford Jenkins Jr., this contemplative short drama examines the unique emotional terrain of grief in a poetic, patient way, suffusing its viewers in a meditative atmosphere that is equal parts beautiful and melancholic.
The film takes its aesthetic cues from its titular characters, from its sculpted, weighty use of lights and shadows to the stoic, steady pacing, which allows us to soak in the small yet rich details of Herman’s world. The film is a small visual marvel to behold, with indelible images and details that gesture at Herman’s isolation, but also the richness of the world he wants to leave.
Though the film’s subject matter is heavy, there’s also dry humor at work, particularly in the way Herman’s small community reacts to the morbid purpose of his project. The humor never comes at the expense of the film’s exquisite sensitivity, however, which is particularly carried by the lead performance by Marvin Gay as Herman. Though Herman is a quiet character, Gay captures the deep currents of sadness within him, but also the dignity and care with which he approaches his work. He’s not perfect, however, and when his plan hits a certain hitch, he gets a new chance to see life anew.
“A Craftsman” is about grief, community and how we find and make meaning in the face of unbearable suffering. But its deliberate, beautiful craftsmanship also invites us to take time to be in the world, listen to people and observe the nuances that surround us. These may just be the things that help us get through the difficult times of life — along with those moments of providence and luck.