Thursday, 16 February 2012

'Mercy' Berlinale (Competition) review:

Set in, Hammerfest, one of the world's northern most towns, 'Gnade' (or 'Mercy') sees a German family move to this remote part of Norway characterised by long cycles of unbroken darkness and unbroken sunshine. Matthias Glasner directs this compelling morality play in which a married couple struggle to come to terms with the fact that they are responsible for the death of a 16 year-old girl. Almost as bad as having caused her death is the fact that they look set to get away with it, a detail which weighs heavily on their shoulders - especially as they know her distraught parents.

The event itself is an accident as Maria (Birgit Minichmayr) hits the girl in her car whilst driving home during the ever-sunless Polarnacht. At first she isn't sure what she's hit and it takes a short while for her to stop the car. Then she can't bear to get out and look, beyond quickly scanning her rear view mirror. After getting home, alarmed at the prospect of having killed a dog, her husband Niels (Jurgen Vogel) ventures back out to the spot looking for evidence of the accident and - after a very short, slightly half-hearted search - finds nothing. The next day news reports confirm their worst fears, but they decide to remain silent.

At school their son Markus (Henry Stange) is also having to ask moral questions of himself - should he bully the unpopular kid to fit in or accept his offer of friendship and be picked on? Niels, for his part, is having an affair with a lady from work. So there's a lot to weigh up all round, though understandably the vehicular manslaughter plot takes centre stage. These problems are explored in interesting ways with defenciveness, self-justification and denial being among the early reactions from characters who say they "aren't that kind of person" even after repeat immoralities. Beautiful night-time helicopter shots of the Arctic town only enhance this rare drama that is actually every bit as profound as it aspires to be.

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