Mercy: happiness regained in hostile territory
by Bénédicte Prot
17/02/2012 - As is often the case with the work of German director Matthias Glasner, Mercy [trailer, film focus] is a film that one has to get into, just like its setting, the town of Hammerfest on the edge of the Arctic Sea, an area that is plunged into darkness for two months a year. The atmosphere of this film in competition in Berlin is comparable to its immense, frozen, almost unbearably calm landscapes - crepuscular expanses over which the camera impressively skims, and whose inhospitality allows the director to evoke the malaise of characters who feel out of place.
The screenplay, written by the excellent Dane screenwriter, Kim Fupz Aakeson, features a German family, literally represented in the first image as segmented into three, who go and live in Hammerfest while the father Niels (Jürgen Vogel, co-founder of production company Schwarzweiss with Glasner) works there. For his wife Maria (Austrian actress Birgit Minichmayr, 2008 Silver Bear for her role in Everyone Else [trailer, film focus]), who helps out in a home for terminally ill patients, this move is a “second chance”, but their son Markus (Their names are all well chosen.), who always notices everything with his sad eyes, is not fooled by the indifference between his parents, so obvious in their silence at the dining table that you have to ask yourself how they could possibly still share the same bed. As Maria becomes exhausted from night shifts, Niels, whose hard coldness is impeccably rendered by actor Vogel, is clearly governed by a masculine selfishness that reappears in both his brazen extramarital affair and in his refusal to learn a word of Norwegian.
Suddenly, on her way home from work in the dark, Maria hits something on the road. She becomes scared and flees, only to send her husband back to the scene to check if what she has hit is still there. After the couple are told that an adolescent girl has been found dead in the middle of the road, Maria decides that she wants to keep the secret with Niels’ help, because she is not “that person” who abandons the suffering and because she refuses, for herself and her son, to ever be tagged as such. The couple’s answer to the question “Now what?” marks the beginning of a rapprochement between the two, consecrated by the emotion of a naked and poignant musical moment, although both secretly continue to work of their acceptance of each other to make their union complete.
Glasner proceeds like his characters, organically, never in a hurry, and integrates calmly distressing patterns into the apparently rough and minimalist fabric of his film. These disturbing elements are the parents’ eternal worry for their children, the idea of confronting one’s problems (as illustrated by several types of one-to-ones), and the conecept that trust is necessary for compassion and forgiveness, just as one needs to recognise pain to find peace. Like Markus’ all-observing camera, Glasner’s camera patiently follows the return of light after night time, as the melody of the local choir rises to the sky. Mercy is certainly a film that one has to get into, but when the sun brings back unison, in a simple singing scene, like a blow to the chest, we realise the weight of all that we have been through.
(Translated from French)