By: Simson Garcia
Not too many movies can weave together the words dark and fortune--two terms with meanings very contradicting to each other--and follow them up with a very beautifully made film about such dark fortunes. With a title like that, before viewing I would have guessed the movie was about "bad luck" seeping in unexpectedly from all sorts of physics defying directions (like Final Destination, 1, 2, 3 and... 4D)? I also would have wagered on horror to be the genre as soon as the opening scene developed with a combination of hymns from a choir and close-up camera zooms on murals of Jesus. Swiss film Dark Fortune isn't a horror film, however, and is rather a movie which maintains its center of gravity, is a realistic situation with realistic people, who have authentic human pitfalls, who then overcome adversarial doom with uplifting redemption.
After the opening scene, camera shots of a tunnel are shown from a car's perspective as it rides along, while a loud scream heightens. The scream we find out is from a young boy named Yves Zanini, who is the survivor of a fatal car wreck that claimed the lives of his entire family. Yves is wound up in a hospital soon after with initial amnesia from the crash. There he meets child psychologist Elaine Hess who begins her observation and evaluation of Yves. The two form a mother-son relationship that grows and they both begin to work through the boy's trauma and rehabilitation from the car wreck. An ongoing dispute over custody of Yves ensues and after the hospital is forced to discharge Yves, Elaine temporarily takes Yves under her supervision until child services finds a solution over who could have permanent sole custody of the boy.
Meanwhile, Elaine brings Yves into her home and tries to understand his strife but is burdened with difficulty as she attempts to find balance between caretaking for Yves and strengthening her own family hardships with her ex-husband and two daughters, Alice and Helen. Elaine begins to understand his traumatic injuries were further beyond a point she could conceive and is of much complication. Yves and Elaine had only grown closer up until this time. However, the custody battle resumes as the court places Yves into the hands of his aunt Julia. He resents being in the presence of Julia, and is unhappy with the situation. Eventually, Elaine receives Yves back and along with her daughters and ex-husband, they come together and, in helping look after Yves journey towards finding resolution with not just Yves but with each other as a family.
Dark Fortune is a smart film and was crafted with close attention to detail. I initially thought of Bruce Willis' 1998 film Mercury Rising, a similar story where Willis' character takes in a young boy with autism after his parents had been killed. The major difference we're dealing with here is there is no grand conspiracy surrounding Yves. It's a simple story about a psychologist and mother who is trying to understand a boy gradually and that's what's smart about Dark Fortune because it never over complicates things. Elaine (played magnificently by actress Eleni Haupt), encounters a rift between her work as a psychologist, wife, and mother and we see her deal with each in all of her conflicting relationships. But then we're also made aware of what every other character is going through based on a ripple effect from Elaine's job, her new bond with Yves (played perfectly by actor Noe Ricklin) and past family troubles. I understood this clearly in one scene where Julia arrived at the Hess' home to claim Yves and when Julia called for Yves to go with her, Helen sort of shielded him away towards her side. Helen then glared at Elaine after she told Yves he couldn't stay at their home anymore, almost to say that this is a hardship both are familiar with. That's the kind of detail that drove this home for me, from the actresses/actors to the placement of each scene, to the music. It's both a hard and yet easy film to watch.