Oh Mercy! (2019)

oh-mercy

Food: Due to lack of prior planning for this one, I ended up getting a drink and food from the festival cafe, despite knowing it would likely be overpriced and mediocre. Perhaps, it was just what I ordered, but I was correct. I ordered the tequila lavender lemonade cocktail and a sprinkled donut. The cocktail came in a large glass, which was great for the price, but the taste was watered down and just OK. I also got the tomato soup which was fine, but I probably would have enjoyed a sandwich better. My friend got the Peach Bellini which tasted much better than my cocktail.

Film: “Oh Mercy!” is French director, Arnaud Desplechin’s new crime drama which he strategically based off of actual precinct tapes that he collected from his hometown of Roubaix. It was inspired by the 2008 TV documentary series created by Mosco Boucault called, “Roubaix, commissariat central, affaires courantes” (Roubaix, Central Police Station, Current Affairs”). Replacing a supermarket for a bakery, and changing the characters names, this docu-series, otherwise, became the drawing board for Desplechin’s story.

Creating a film based off of true stories is a radical shift from fiction, and in order to start this process, Desplechin used recorded transcripts from the Roubaix police precinct. He threw all fiction out in the creation of the screenplay, and while speaking about the final product, acknowledged that the fiction returns when the scenes are being acted due to the fact that acting is innately fictional. Desplechin was also greatly inspired by legend, Alfred Hitchcock, when he chose to create “The Wrong Man” (1956) which was an American docudrama film that was based off real-life events.

In light of this, the film relies on the tedium of everyday life at the precinct of this bleak town to capture the audience. Unfortunately, the film plays more like a procedural court document than a gripping tale. The town of Roubaix is impoverished and gloomy, where commonplace crimes include false complaints made to obtain insurance, arson, runaway teens and small-scale robberies.

Captain of the precinct, Yakoub Daoud (played by Roschdy Zem), and his rookie cop Louis Cotterel (Antoine Reinartz), while spending the day doing routine checks on neighborhood crime reports, encounter two women who are victims of a fire that occurred next door. The couple (Léa Seydoux as Claude; Sara Forestier as Marie) who raise Claude’s 6 year old son together, are afraid to get on the bad side of any of their delinquent neighbors, but reluctantly end up working with the police to identify potential suspects. Though their interactions are brief, you get the sense that it won’t be the last of them. When the called suspects have airtight alibis, suspicion arises about why these women would bother to frame these men at all.

Desplechin uses the repetition of some of the characters as a vehicle to humanize them, making it more difficult to decipher whether or not they are guilty. This works well. Ultimately, though, the structure of the film distances and underplays each individual story so much that it is impossible to stay invested. The scenes drag and are agonizingly detailed. The commitment to sticking to the exact transcripts to, in Desplechin’s words, capture “the triviality of their words” is painfully monotonous especially towards the end of the two hour run-time. Even within documentaries, there are techniques used to build intrigue and suspense. This feels like an elevated SVU episode, but slower paced. The long-form storytelling would work better as the Pilot of a mini series, if accompanied by further character development and a deeper dive into some of the sub-plots featured.

“Oh Mercy” (a title with no discernible connection to the film) is much less concerned with the who-done-it crime story, but focuses on the breakdown of a relationship, as a couple turns on each other when put under police questioning. We witness two contrasting characters: a relentlessly loyal Marie with Joan of Arc braids and a destitute background, and Claude, a woman who had been led astray from her own potential, reacting to the probing with opposing attitudes. Despite outstanding performances depicting the collapse of a relationship, as they blame each other for their monstrous choices, the film falls flat. Even the town Desplechin is attempting to pay tribute to is bland and depraved. An admirable premise that does not quite land.

 

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