War-weary Sergeant Xavier (Marc Zinga) and fresh recruit Private Faustin (Bak) are accidentally separated from their Rwandan battalion inside Congolese territory when it is called out suddenly on nighttime raid. They face a lack of water, food, and threats from malarial fever and jungle wildlife. The two seek to reunite with the battalion by heading westward but must remain wary of interacting with the local population given Congolese antipathy to the Rwandan Army and the presence of irregular rebel factions.
At first the older Xavier is gruff and demanding toward the young private Faustin but a deep bond eventually develops between the two men, especially as Faustin makes critical contributions toward their survival. The film is interspersed with meditations on the horrors that have befallen the region and wider questions of meaning and mercy in times of war. Xavier is particularly haunted by the atrocities he has both witnessed and committed while Faustin is motivated by the murder of his family and a young wife he wishes to see again.
Eventually choosing to impersonate Congolese soldiers themselves, the two manage to fall in with a group of villagers who show them kindness and aid. The movie’s various plot threads—pursuing rebels, reunification with the war, and the personal journeys of the two men—converge at the film’s conclusion.
Mercy of the Jungle actually plays out more like a coming of age road movie. Xavier is an intense, highly decorated soldier, where Faustin, a farmer, doesn’t belong in the military. Yet, the two are paired together in dyer circumstances and they quickly realize they’ll both need to change in order to survive. Faustin might not be a soldier, but he must learn to become one. He has think, walk, and talk like a soldier. Xavier must teach Faustin how to be a soldier so that he has a partner who will watch his back. It’s a great character piece, as we watch these two men grow together.
Led by a pair of spectacular performances, The Mercy of the Jungle is an interesting character study about what you need to do to survive. Though the pacing is a little slow in the middle, this is a fascinating, moving, at times thrilling look at war-torn Africa.