Opposite sides of the picket line attract.
Receiving top billing at this year’s BFI Flare Festival, the prestigious opening night gala slot was afforded to Tali Shalom-Ezer’s My Days of Mercy following its premiere at Toronto International Film Festival last year.
Starring Ellen Page and Kate Mara and with its political backdrop, My Days of Mercy feels like a film with a lot of things to say, and for the most part it succeeds in this. Interestingly, and at least initially, the focus of the film is weighed heavily towards exploring the different sides to the death row arguments; represented by our two central protagonists who are on opposite sides.
It efficiently introduces the two parties, and as the film unfolds, it delves further into the personal circumstances that have pushed them towards their respective stances. The film poses some interesting questions about the justice and morality of this difficult subject matter, and whilst it doesn’t necessarily offer a clear answer or indeed even a bias towards one argument over the other, it manages to offer enough depth without it weighing too heavy over the other side of the story. The combination of a death row drama and a blossoming lesbian romance might not seem like the most obvious of bedfellows, but My Days of Mercy manages to strike just the right balance between the weightier themes and the romance between Ellen Page’s Lucy, and the titular Mercy, played by Kate Mara.
The countdown to the denouement of the story is broken up by punctuated stills of death row prisoner’s final meals, alongside the details of their crimes. Whilst these serve as constant reminders of the film’s ongoing debate, they also signal the next time our two protagonists will meet as they travel to stand on opposing sides of the picket line when the sentences are carried out. The juxtaposition of this obviously difficult morality debate and the genuinely sweet romance, works better than it ever should on paper!
The strength of the performances, particularly from Ellen Page, make this film highly watchable, and in the films more dramatic moments, she is really outstanding. Her and Mara share a believable onscreen chemistry, and the progression of their relationship when played alongside the seemingly inevitable tragic conclusion is fascinating.
Being shot through the female gaze undoubtedly goes in this film’s favour, but whilst the sex scenes are sensitively shot, the more of them there are, the less purpose they serve, and the border on the unnecessarily gratuitous. Whilst it undoubtedly poses some interesting questions, there are times when it feels it doesn’t quite make enough of the morality issues addressed in the film and it feels a little timid in making a clear stance; perhaps this is wise in some respects but certainly a broader focus on the debate and its implications would’ve been interesting to see.
That being said, My Days of Mercy is absolutely worth a watch. With fantastic performances across the board, and a surprisingly challenging message, it is refreshing to see the romance play second fiddle to a bigger debate, and there is no doubt it will provoke interesting discussion and conversation. As the slogans emblazoned across the protestor’s t-shirts state, it is love that wins in the end, but it isn’t always the easiest road to get there. My Days of Mercy is a compelling and surprisingly challenging watch from a talented director that is certainly one to watch in the future.