“The film is a journey into light”
by Bénédicte Prot
- After The Free Will in 2006, the German film director returned to the Berlinale competition in 2012 with Mercy. He deciphered his film for the international press.
Born in 1965, the German filmmaker has regularly attended the Berlinale. His feature debut The Meds was selected for its Panorama section in 1995, and he was then again selected for the same section the next year with Sexy Sadie and in 2000 with Fandango . He ran in the competition at the San Sebastian Film Festival in 2010 with This is Love [+see also:
film profile], as well as twice at the Berlinale: in 2006 with The Free Will and this year with Mercy [+see also:
interview: Matthias Glasner
film profile], a film that he deciphered for the international press.
Why did you choose Norway as a location for Mercy ?
Matthias Glasner : A couple of years ago, I went there on a private mission, and on the one hand, I thought Hammerfest was very hostile (almost as if the land doesn't want people), but on the other, you see these little houses, you see that people live there anyway, it’s almost extraterrestrial. But I did not have a story. Later, I was offered this screenplay by the producer Kristine Knudsen, whick took place in Copenhagen, in the city. I thought it was excellent, but did not fully understand the characters, the family. There was a secret left. So I thought maybe I should combine the two, take this very intimate drama, and have it take place in this archaic landscape, because what occurs in the script is not so much psychological as it touches the nature of human beings. It goes somewhat deeper. So I thought nature inside, nature outside, and the chemical reaction between the two would make for something exciting.
During the war, the Germans wiped out Hammerfest. Could you feel the history between Germany and Norway?
I thought a lot about it, and whether I should integrate it or not. There is a deep connection between our countries, but forgiveness has actually come about, there is this awareness, a museum, etc. Thus, I did not feel like I had to make direct references in the film, which would have overburdened it.
What influence did the permanent darkness of the polar night have on the movie?
The film is a journey into light. It is dark, and then the sun appears above the horizon. We shot the story in a chronological order, so we all felt the influence of light. It is fascinating how much people in Norway are aware of when the sun is rising, where exactly it is in the heavens.
The film has a lot of spiritual elements, such as guilt, admitting guilt to allow some kind of mercy to take place?
Yet it is not religious or theological at all. I did not look at mercy from that angle. Although the choir meets at church, the songs they sing are not church songs, they belong to the Sami culture. We live in a world without god and the film is about how we as human beings can find ways to forgive each other in a world without god. Religion has been present throughout the history of mankind. Without it, are we still able to forgive each other, and if not what does that mean?
On the subject of forgiveness, there is a scene where the son admits he spat into another kid's backpack and apologises to him, but the kid refuses his apology.
In the script, the boy accepted the apology, but I changed it. Instead, he does not, but in his face (the young actor proved quite the minimalist), we can see the slight chance of a smile. The apology is not accepted, but that is secondary, it is still good that the son apologised. Later, this becomes clear, even though the apology was refused.
Your films, while tough, are always about second chances.
I increasingly feel the need to find a Utopian aspect to my projects. I need it for my characters. At the end of John Cassavetes' Gloria, the child is on his own and Gena Rowlands is dead, but when he goes to the cemetery, she comes from the back and they embrace, and when someone said to Cassavetes he could not do that, he said: "This is my film, and I am not going to leave this child alone". I have kept that in the back of my mind and added that element to my film although it was not in the script : at the end, forgiving and mercy are acted out. Some people said they did not believe that parents would behave that way, but I say, well, if you do not believe it, it is because of your own lack of belief in the possibilities and the potential of human beings. As a director, I want to believe that these kind of moments can happen, that they are possible.