Fulvio Bernasconi • Director
"The harshness of this man’s physical and psychological journey"
- Interview with Swiss filmmaker Fulvio Bernasconi, who’s back with Mercy, which is being shown in competition at the Les Arcs European Film Festival
After rising to prominence with Out of Bounds (featured in competition at Locarno in 2007, where it won the award for Best Actor to boot), Swiss director Fulvio Bernasconi alternates between creating pieces for television and the big screen, with a few forays into documentary film. Now he’s back on the big screen with his second fictional feature, Mercy [+see also:
interview: Fulvio Bernasconi
film profile], a film he shot in Canada with Belgian actor Jonathan Zaccaï in the lead role. We caught up with Bernasconi at the 8th Les Arcs European Film Festival (10-17 December 2016), where the film was shown in competition before it is released in Switzerland on 18 January.
Cineuropa: Where did the idea for Mercy come from and what drew you to this story?
Fulvio Bernasconi: The film is the result of a long and drawn-out process. Pierre Pascal Rossi, a Swiss journalist and screenwriter who spent some time in Quebec, wrote a piece, which he showed to Jean-Marc Frohle at Point Prod, who pitched the film to me. But Pierre Pascal’s health problems (editor’s note: Pascal passed away last September) put the project on hold before Antoine Jaccoud could re-write the screenplay that I also contributed to. What did I like about it? I like harsh topics, things that push human beings to the extreme. I was fascinated by the confrontation between the main character and the north Canadian landscape. And the theme that we developed around forgiveness and justice really interested me.
The film touches on several different genres: road movie, psychological drama, thriller. You even refer to it as a "contemporary western".
At the heart of the project was this idea of escaping to the north, so of course it was going to be a road movie. At the same time, the subjects broached in the film and the characters’ natures fit with the psychological drama genre. I compare the film to a western because there are elements of the story that are traditionally used in that genre: the journey of the hero across the somewhat hostile natural landscape, the quest for justice. And for a European to go to Canada, perhaps rather naively, to face this landscape and make a film with native Americans (editor’s note Indians), was also reminiscent of the western genre for me.
Why the choice to use the Indian Question as a backdrop?
We tried to hang the film on the subjects of forgiveness and justice. While we were there, it seemed rather natural to involve the native community, as it allowed us to broach the theme in another way. The Algonquin Indians, the Anishnabe Indians of Lake Simon, we have to ask for their forgiveness, and they in turn perhaps have to forgive and accept. I think there’s a sense of justice that needs reinstating. It’s still a very sensitive subject in Quebec. This is a poor community, with a sad history that weights heavily on them. Moreover, just after we finished filming, it sadly made the headlines with the riots against the police and the resulting deaths. But we were very warmly welcomed there, they threw open their doors to us, and we used them as extras, even the community shaman, who plays himself in the film.
What were your intentions visually speaking, with these great big open spaces that really are protagonists in your film. Is the main character, whilst hunting someone down, perhaps running from something himself?
He is indeed, He has a mission, a quest, he’s hunting down the guilty party, this black lorry that has killed a child. But at the same time, what follows is also him running away: he’s running from his own demons, his own responsibilities, his own chance for forgiveness. To portray his journey, these landscapes that are so extensive in the eyes of us Europeans were ideal. It allowed us to really show the difficulty, the harshness of this man’s physical and psychological journey. We also tried to find a Canada that is far removed from the postcard version people usually think of, more specifically the harsh mining region in the north, which embodies the spirit of the film.
Your film is reminiscent of independent American films such as Frozen River, which is somewhat rare in European film.
My previous film, Out of Bounds, was about boxing matches, so clearly I’m drawn to very physical conflicts, a typical narrative element in American film. Films like Frozen River are sort of reference models for me.
Are you already working on your next project?
I’m going to start filming a series entitled Quartier des banques on 30 January, which centres around the end of bank secrecy in Switzerland.
(Translated from French)
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