Austrian helmer Andreas Gruber takes a distanced, almost academic approach to what might seem like sure-fire dramatic material in "The Quality of Mercy," a fact-based World War II pic that lacks the extra spark necessary to carry it beyond the fest circuit.
Austrian helmer Andreas Gruber takes a distanced, almost academic approach to what might seem like sure-fire dramatic material in “The Quality of Mercy,” a fact-based World War II pic that lacks the extra spark necessary to carry it beyond the fest circuit.
At its infrequent best, “The Quality of Mercy” recalls “Schindler’s List” in its thoughtful consideration of the ways that war brings out unexpected and inexplicable extremes of good and evil in the least likely people. Unfortunately , there is little that is moving, exciting or enlightening about Gruber’s cool, matter-of-fact presentation. Pic is based on a 1945 incident that occurred in the Mauthausen region, where it is still referred to as the Muhlviertler Rabbit Hunt. Only 150 of 500 Russian inmates survive an escape from the Mauthausen concentration camp, and they must contend with the harsh winter, the unfamiliar landscape and, worst of all, the blood lust of nearby villagers pressed into service by the local SS commanders.
Most of the villagers don’t need much encouragement by the SS to take part in a take-no-prisoners hunt for the escaped Russian soldiers. Indeed, the majority of the hunters appear to enjoy their work thoroughly.
Fortunately for two fugitive Russians, Michail (Oliver Broumis) and Nikolai (Merab Ninidze), not every villager follows the SS directives. The taciturn but good-hearted Frau Karner (Elfriede Irrall) allows the two men to hide in her family’s barn. And her adult son (Rainer Egger), rejected for military duty because of nearsightedness, sees enough of what’s going on to help as many Russians as he can.
Pic’s first half is so relentlessly dark and repetitiously violent that it nearly numbs the audience with its overkill. Second half, which focuses primarily on the Karners and their efforts to hide the two Russians from SS search parties, is much easier to take. Surprisingly, however, neither half generates much suspense. Best performance comes from Rudiger Vogler as the village police chief who’s too decent to take part in the hunt but too ineffectual to act when another villager — appropriately enough, a butcher — marches Russian prisoners out of the jail and summarily executes them. The look of self-disgust on Vogler’s face speaks volumes about the impotence of weak-willed virtue in the face of resolute evil.
Hermann Dunzendorfer’s excellent color lensing enhances the wintry ambiance. Other tech credits are fine.