Saturday 24 March 2018

My Days Of Mercy - Tali Shalom Ezer

My Days Of Mercy - Tali Shalom Ezer

As the opening film of this year's BFI Flare festival celebrating queer cinema, My Days Of Mercy is an urgent, politically-charged choice and the first US feature from Israeli director Tali Shalom Ezer. A country in political crisis, America still shockingly enforces the death penalty - the only Western country to do so. The film is structured around a series of protests, a clash of those both for and against, at various prisons around the country.

And yet against this backdrop, a beautiful queer love story unfolds between two young activist women. They're on opposing sides: Lucy (Ellen Page) against the death penalty as her father waits on death row accused of murdering her mother; Mercy (Kate Mara) pro, after the death of her father's police partner. The two sides have mutual disdain for one another, but the girls meet by chance and embark on a secret romance, a sort of Juliet & Juliet relationship.

Narratively the main focus is Lucy's family. Eight years earlier, her mother was murdered, a tragic event that's enveloped the family in sorrow. Her father stands accused; her older sister Martha (Amy Seimetz, in an incredibly emotional performance) spearheads the family's fight to prove his innocence; her younger brother Benjamin (Charlie Shotwell) saddened to have never really known his father. Lucy has since grown introverted, wrestling with doubts over her father's innocence, though Page balances this with trademark quirky humour. The 'did-he-didn't-he' plotline is the engine that drives the narrative towards a traumatic climax.

Mercy is Lucy's opposite. Confident, free-spirited and from a wealthy family, she boldly instigates each stage of their relationship but soon becomes wrapped up irreconcilably in the family drama. She's not devoid of conflict herself though, her concealed sexuality at odds with her highly conservative parents.

Yet this isn't a film about coming out. If anything, Lucy and Mercy's relationship is this pure, innocent thing amidst the harsh, bleak reality of politics. Page and Mara have such natural chemistry together, the scenes between the two women feel warm and authentic yet also precious and vulnerable. These are snatches of secret love - all giddy and exciting - even when politics threatens to crush it all.

That central juxtaposition adds urgency to the film, its conclusion a testament to the power of love - love knows no boundaries of gender, sexuality or political divide. With this lesbian relationship so downplayed and natural and real, the film focuses instead on how elsewhere life and death literally hang in the balance, when in reality politicians weirdly question marriage equality and gender and which bathrooms should be used. My Days Of Mercy is a harrowing film, whose beautiful message forces us to question political priorities.


Watch: My Days Of Mercy was show at the BFI Flare Festival 2018 and will be distributed later this year.