Thursday, February 02, 2012

MERCY - a dark tale of loss by João Paulo Simões

M E R CY is an independent film written and directed by João Paulo Simões.
It explores the notions of family and identity through the brief encounter between two women.
This unforgiving tale retains its ambiguity until the very last frame of the film.

Let's get this straight; barring a bit of messing around with a camera, I have never acted before, and to be honest, I always had grave doubts as to how I'd come across if anyone actually did point a video camera in my direction. Added to that, I'll be fifty this year, which bears some weight, despite nice people constantly expressing surprise, real or feigned, at that fact.

So imagine my surprise when a young, independent, Portuguese film director messages me through Facebook, to say he'd like to cast my wife, the author Jude Calvert-Toulmin, as one of the leads in his new project, a short film called Mercy. The surprise wasn't down to that, but rather to the further news that he would like me to play her husband. Well, ex-husband. Me! Mister get-that-fucking-camera-out-of-my-face!

I agreed, of course. Well, you do, don't you? I'll try anything once. Nothing to lose, is there?

João, the Director, felt that Jude and me would work well onscreen, as a real life couple, hence his approaching me. He already knew Jude could handle herself in front of a camera; she was in the Peter Care short film 'Johnny YesNo', soundtracked by Sheffield band Cabaret Voltaire, in 1979. But I was an unknown quantity.

A date was set for filming - a weekend, so I wouldn't need time off work for it - and we read the screenplay and script, a new experience for me, although my character had only a limited role, late in the film. João decided to use our real names, Jude and Brian, as the character's names, as they fitted and were as good as any others.

On the day of filming, we arrived at the set, a large house belonging to our friend John Allen, and met two of the other actors, musician Joseph Armstrong and Art student Ruth Herbert. We all knew each other already, and it had been me who'd suggested Ruth for the lead role of Mercy, the girl around whom the film revolves. Ruth too, had never acted, but turned out to be a real find, veering effortlessly from cute to creepy within a single scene. I can't take all the casting credit though, as Jude suggested Joseph for the role of The Young Man in which, despite the brevity of his appearance, he burned like a black flame.

After some initial awkwardness, I soon realised that João knew exactly what he wanted, and his directions were precise and considered, putting me at ease in the unfamiliar situation. I just let my instincts tell me how best to meet his requirements, and he seemed pleased with what I did. having no internal benchmark by which to judge what I was doing, I just had to go with that as an indicator of good or bad.

The screenplay contained a final scene where Brian and Jude make love, and I wasn't sure how I'd be in that context. Jude was nervous about how she'd look on screen too. In the event, we needn't have worried. I was almost unaware of the camera, and the pretence of sex could very easily (on my part at least, no pun intended) have jumped track into reality. Maybe that wouldn't have been the case had the actress been anyone but my own wife, but the familiar contours of her body brought forth the appropriate response from me and ensured that the scene works and seems real onscreen.

It was some weeks before the film was through the editing process, and had soundtrack music added, courtesy of  Sebastian Lasombra.and The Mighty Sieben (Matt Howden) who allowed João to use a track from his new, unreleased album 'No Less Than All'.

The finished film is 30 minutes long, and is a dark, almost baroque tale of a missing daughter, a familiar stranger's arrival in the life of the grieving mother, and echoes of betrayal and violence, which resonate from the past, right into the present lives of the main character. No spoilers here though. If you want to see the movie, it is available directly from  Frontiermedia for only £5.99, using Paypal or regular payment methods. Extras include an interview with Jude and also the pilot episode of another of  João's works, the drama series 'Where Her Dreams End'.

So what of me? Well, as I'm in the film, it would be slightly crass of me to review it as such; I feel that should be left for others, and likewise my appearance in the movie. I was taken slightly aback though, when  João contacted me to tell me I had a fantastic screen presence, and (his words) "stole the show". I look at the man onscreen and it's me. To me, it's just me, not even acting, although I am. But to others...well,  João was so pleased with it, he cast me in the short film/music video for 'He Can Delve In Hearts', a track from Sieben's album, and if you think 'Mercy' is dark, wait'll you see that!

I'll let Jude have the last word on me, from a Facebook exchange she had with João after seeing the rushes of the film:

Many fabulous actors and actresses don't have it. A few do. Jack Nicholson has it, Marilyn had it, Brando had it, Heath Ledger had it. 

And someone in Mercy has it. Absolutely GUTTED that it's not me. 

It's my husband Brian. 

The minute he appeared on screen it was as if a thunderbolt had come from heaven, hit him, gone through the screen and set fire to the room. I just went "Whoa!" And make no mistake, I would have liked it to be me that had that effect, but it isn't, it's Brian. 

He's never acted before, and every single frame with him in it is riveting. Naturally I'm not saying this just because he's my husband, otherwise I'd look like an idiot when the film comes out. I'm saying it because it just *is*. Whatever that elusive screen magic is that every actor would love to possess, somehow by some weird trick of nature, Brian has it. 


 Thank you darling. MWAH! x

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