Middle-aged police chief Daoud (Roschdy Zem) operates in the crime-ridden city of Roubaix. Stray kittens seem to know him well, since he always has a dish of milk for them. He takes this compassion into his police field of work. A younger officer (Antoine Reinartz), less versed in Daoud’s patience, joins in. Their unit conducts cases: a family quarrel, a runaway, arson, a rape case. Deep into the film, they discover the corpse of a strangled octogenarian and take a pair of destitute women into questioning.
Lifting from a real murder case in director Arnaud Desplechin’s hometown of Roubaix, Oh Mercy is a crime film with dreary atmosphere that isn’t about solving a murder mystery as it is painting a portrait of the wearisome haziness of a crime. Never does the film indulge in the voyeurism of its key crime scene, observing how truths (or relative shapes of the truth) are delayed by the psyche and how the crimes affect the investigators.
The interrogation of the two murder suspects makes up the bulk of the procedures. Sara Forestier and Léa Seydoux have enigmatic and hardy glazes as the two murder suspects, Claude and Marie. Without sympathizing with their crime, the film provides empathy for their socioeconomic and psychological vulnerabilities that attributed to the desperation. Their separate confessions go beyond a “she said, she said,” working through a torrent of guilt, loyalty, and fractured contradictions. The film comes to a head when both women are brought to the crime scene to reenact and both suspects can’t agree on matters such as the premeditation of the crime and their exact gestures. The cesspool of memory obscured the final puzzle pieces of the big picture. Was the crime premeditated? Who did what? They have grown honest about their movements and intentions to the best of their abilities but can’t seem to agree on the specifics. As a result, their film ends with the police left to contend with the unresolved.
The movie’s finest asset is Zem and the believable chemistry he forges with every of his charge. He strikes a marvelous balance in his professionalism: He never cuts slack for suspects while assuring respect for their humanity even when he’s asking the difficult questions. He contrasts well with Reinartz’s more zealous Louis, who is more of a believer in order.
But otherwise, Oh Mercy is too restrained and unchallenging to make an impression on the heart, like a cold episode of Law & Order that has its moments. While I believed in Daoud’s concern for his charges, I was bothered by the film believing too much in the chief’s close-to-infallible assumptions. By the time the police procedures lags toward its core point, it has exhausted itself.
There’s more for me to like than dislike about Oh Mercy, but I feel little else about it.
/Film Rating: 6.5 out of 10
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