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Oh Mercy! (A Movie Review)

Updated: Feb 18, 2020

Oh Mercy


Starring Roschdy Zem, Léa Seydoux, Sara Forestier, Antoine Reinartz, Chloé Simoneau, Betty Cartoux, Jérémy Brunet, Stéphane Duquenoy, Philippe Duquesne, Anthony Salamone, Ilyes Bensalem, Abdellatif Sedegui, Sylvie Moreaux, Diya Chalaoui, Bouzid Bouhdida, Maïssa Taleb and Madison Copin.

Screenplay by Arnaud Desplechin and Léa Mysius.

Directed by Arnaud Desplechin.

Distributed by Arte France Cinema. 119 minutes. Not Rated.

Screened at the 2019 Philadelphia Film Festival.

Oh Mercy! (Roubaix, une lumière) is sort of an odd thing, the French equivalent of Martin Scorsese agreeing to film two rather different episodes of a new TV police procedural series and then mashing them together into a single film.

Not only is it supposed to be a celebration of the police, writer/director Arnaud Desplechin returns to his hometown to show off the area of France. It’s a homecoming of sorts for the director and you can’t begrudge him the urge to return to his roots, but it seems like there should be more to the film than that. If only the whole equaled the sum of its parts. While Oh Mercy! has some terrific sections, it sometimes feels like a bit of a trivial storyline for such a smart filmmaker.

Oh Mercy! Is based on a 2008 documentary – Roubaix, commissariat central – about the murder of an elderly woman by two younger women.

The first half of the film looks at a normal night at the local police station – other than the fact that it is Christmas – as the police deal with lots of different crimes and misdemeanors going on in their quaint little town on this joyeux Noël.

Then Desplechin drops most of these little cases for one case in the last half of the movie – which is basically two women being cross-examined by the police about the murder of the elderly woman, taking up about an hour of screen time. It gets notably slow moving.

These interrogations, with the police lying to, berating, cajoling the suspects into a confession – sometimes the women together, sometimes apart, sometimes in the station, sometimes at the scene of the crime, playing them against each other – drag out so incessantly that the inherent interest in that kind of situation gets diluted.

Had that whole section been pruned down to about 15 minutes it may have been fascinating. Then again, the movie would have been about 75 minutes long. However, the last half of the movie feels padded. By concentrating on the minutiae of the process of breaking down a witness, it loses the dramatic flavor of the situation.

You know how they say part of the art of interrogation is breaking down and exhausting the subject until they finally confess just to get the whole process over with? To a certain extent the movie does the same thing to the audience.

Then on the rare occasions in the second half that they get out of the box – literally and figuratively – to show the gendarmes as normal people, they just feel out of place. For example, a stop at the local horse-racing track may be a bit of character revelation for the film, but it really does nothing to move the story forward.

Also, they write off one of the other earlier first-half cases in a simple line of dialogue, making you wonder what the point of those earlier storylines really was if the film would shrug them off, or forget them, so readily.

It’s kind of a shame, because the movie looks stunning and has some very fine acting. Also, as I said before, there are some very good sections of Oh Mercy!, particularly in the first half, but even the interrogation scenes have lots of good moments, they just go on way too long.

Oh Mercy! is a pretty minor addition to Arnaud Desplechin’s body of work, but it’s hard to totally write off just because of the talent behind and in front of the camera.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2019 All rights reserved. Posted: October 23, 2019.

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