Review: The Lost Boys of Mercury
- Clémence Davigo's second feature-length documentary provides a devastating look at the abuse of boys by the Catholic Church in France and puts us in the shoes of three of these damaged humans
Three old men get together in an idyllic rural house near Albertville in Savoy, France. Michel has prepared a hearty meal, and they sit down at the table on this sunny day. Soon, we will learn that in the 1950s and 1960s, they were placed in the correctional centre for boys in Mercury, belonging to the Departmental Directorate of Sanitary and Social Affairs (DDASS) and managed by an abbot of the Catholic Church, where they suffered horrifying abuse. Along with other survivors, they meet at this place every year, and for Clémence Davigo's second feature-length documentary, The Lost Boys of Mercury, they agreed to speak on camera. The film has screened at Visions du Réel.
The intimacy and empathy with which Davigo treats her protagonists lead to some meticulous characterisation, helping the viewer not only perceive them as they are today, but also imagine what they were like as boys. One can practically see these kids even before we watch, together with them, an old, silent video of a celebration from 1970. Here, we see the man in charge, Abbot Garin, “red as a beetroot with wine and blood”, as Michel describes him. In the recording, Garin is receiving a decoration while the boys run around, black circles under their eyes. They'd be woken up in the middle of the night to go outside and run. Why? No one knows. The boys didn't have to do anything bad to end up in the correctional centre; they were either orphans, wards of the state or were sent there by a judge for minors. “They could have talked to us,” says one of them. Instead, they were violently abused every single day, forever crippling them emotionally, physically and mentally.
Dédé is 78 – a tall, handsome, no-nonsense man who spent 35 years in prison. He learned to steal in Mercury, as they were always hungry, which is also the reason he was never able to study, rendering him unemployable.
Michel is 69 and loves to engross himself in cooking. “They used to call us bastards, but look at us now!” he says in one of the film's saddest lines, referring to the meal he has prepared. He carries around a huge amount of shame, not least from being forced to run naked in the snow while getting whipped.
Daniel is somewhat younger, but his age isn't revealed. The smallest and weakest of the boys, he always suffered the most. He was also, like certainly many others, subjected to sexual abuse by a priest who is still active. A gentle, sensitive man, he says the only time he can escape his pain is when he is running marathons. He shows a box full of medals to Dédé.
The trio and several other survivors get to meet the Savoy diocese's “support unit” – namely, a married couple of family therapists, who show great empathy and understanding for their experiences. But Dédé, Michel and Daniel insist they want to speak to the bishop, and demand recognition and reparations. They will indeed meet the bishop, but will they get anything?
No matter how difficult the topic is and how proceedings go, documentaries tend to end with some sign of hope. But this film builds up sadness, anger and disillusionment in viewers, especially those who may have had the idea that the Church might own up to its crimes – some such cases happened in Austria, Ireland and the USA, but in France, for some reason, it is still more difficult. Thus, Davigo subverts our expectations and turns the sign of hope into a bitter but genuine moment of honesty and humanness.
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