Prior to arriving in Toronto for the festival, I had an amazing sit-down with Kristen Schlotman, the executive director of Film Cincinnati. It’s always a pleasure to catch up with her about the film production happenings in and around the Greater Cincinnati region. During our chat, we, of course talked about my upcoming trip and the films I would see. I told her how eager I was to experience The Killing of a Sacred Deer from co-writer and director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster). It was the easy and obvious film to mention, since it’s high-profile creative team set their film entirely in and around the Queen City. This is just one in a long line of productions to enjoy Ohio’s tax incentives and Schlotman’s expert support.
She was quick to point out though, that I should also be on the lookout for another title – Tale Shalom-Ezer’s My Days of Mercy – with Greater Cincinnati roots gracing festival screens. It is a truer indie, a small character-driven piece about Lucy (Ellen Page) and Martha (Amy Seimetz), a pair of sisters working the activist circuit, protesting the death penalty, largely because their father (Elias Koteas) is awaiting execution for killing their mother. They drive to executions in the South and the Midwest, facing off against the pro-death penalty side. It is at one of these weekend stand-offs that Lucy lays eyes on Mercy (Kate Mara), the daughter of a police officer whose partner was shot by a man with developmental delays.
The narrative drifts along the familiar back and forth of the relationship brewing between Lucy and Mercy, with each cautiously reaching out to the other. Mercy, a junior lawyer at a firm in Illinois, offers legal assistance to Lucy, which could free her father, while the bond between the two forces Mercy to confront the realities of her conservative life.
My Days of Mercy is the kind of story that could only be told, with any degree of authenticity, in the Midwest, away from the bright lights of the cities. Those long desolate roads, the too-lived-in homes complete with regular folks sitting out front or kids riding bikes and kicking soccer balls, the diners and bars with patrons nursing their sorrows and beers; this is the heart and soul of Greater Cincinnati. Even the shots, near the end of the film, framing Ludlow (and featuring Sitwell’s), cast the neighborhood as a quaint character with what amounts to a single line, but it is real and telling enough to make all the difference.
Festival goers will talk about The Killing of a Sacred Deer because of the presence of Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman, and in comparison to Lanthimos’ work on The Lobster (which they should, and I will, when that film opens in a few months), but I would rather recommend that audiences here settle in for My Days of Mercy, if they want to get to know the everyday charm of the Queen City.