Year:  2022

Director:  Dominik Moll

Rated:  M

Release:  October 13, 2022

Distributor: Potential Films

Running time: 114 minutes

Worth: $15.00
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Bastien Bouillon, Bouli Lanners, Mouna Soualem, Pauline Serieyis, Lulu Cotton-Frapier

Moll’s film is not stylish, flattering, nor particularly visually engaging, but what it has in its favour is veracity.

Director Dominik Moll is up front in his police procedural film The Night of the 12th that the audience is watching the story of an unsolved case. There will be no neat wrapping up of the events, no catharsis, no punishment of the murderer. Instead, what we see is the grind of daily police work and an insight into the gendered manner of crime; both in how it is committed and investigated.

Based on the writing of Pauline Guéna and her experience in the French Judicial Police, the story is ostensibly about a real case. Moll translocates the story from Paris to Grenoble, perhaps to add a sense of the reality that violent crimes happen everywhere and are not limited to cities and their immediate surrounds.

On the night of the 12th, sometime in 2016, twenty-one-year-old Clara Royer (Lulu Cotton-Frapier) is set alight by an assailant that knows her. Moll shows the shocking incident in enough detail to horrify the viewer, but salaciousness in the rest of the film is limited. A very recently promoted police officer, Capitaine Yohan Virès (Bastien Bouillon) is given the case and with his all-male team he attempts to solve it. The assumption at the outset is that the manner of the murder implies jealousy or revenge. The squad focus their attention on the men in Clara’s life.

Yohan’s youth and general equanimity is contrasted by his relationship to his grizzled and cynical partner, Marceau (Bouli Lanners). Marceau is exhausted by the grind of police work and is in the midst of a divorce. He is questioning his life choices and eventually snaps when confronted with yet another violent suspect. For Yohan, the case reveals how reductive policing has become when dealing with female victims. A seemingly endless parade of facile men who Clara has been involved with shows that although none of them can be identified as the perpetrator, they all could easily have been.

At the core of the film is the idea of how prevalent victim blaming is. Clara, described as “intelligent and joyful” by her father, becomes reduced to a young woman who made poor choices when it came to sexual partners. In a heartbreaking scene, Clara’s best friend Nanie (Pauline Serieyis), who has been subjected to incessant questioning about Clara’s sex life, breaks down and pronounces to Yohan that Clara is dead for one reason; she was une fille (a girl). For Yohan, this moment cements how much of the case has been devoted to dehumanising the young victim. Moll reiterates the problem with male violence and a predominantly male police force when the case is re-opened three years later, and a young woman detective makes the point that men commit the majority of violent crimes and men investigate them – “It’s a man’s world” says Nadia (Mouna Soualem).

It’s difficult to categorise The Night of the 12th because it doesn’t verge into being a crime thriller. We already know that the case will never be solved. It highlights certain failures within the justice system, especially how dominant sexism is rooted within all aspects of the law and by extension, society. What it does very well is to create a subtle character study of Yohan and the learning curve he undergoes while investigating Clara’s murder.

While the film is thematically rich, the direction is somewhat stodgy. There are many scenes that go on too long and don’t add to the tapestry of the story. It does capture the workman-like nature of policing and how it can traumatise those who do it, but there could be more economy in the script to illustrate that idea.

A sense of helplessness pervades On the Night of the 12th – too often the system lets down women, whether it be in domestic violence situations (a subject that is addressed) or by the ubiquitous nature of the patriarchy which dominates every facet of power. The film is deliberately depressing because it is based in fact. Whether or not such a downbeat piece of cinema will resonate with a wider audience will depend on how much they require resolution to questions that sometimes have no answers.

Moll’s film is not stylish, flattering, nor particularly visually engaging, but what it has in its favour is veracity; something that is lacking from so many police procedurals that indulge in the fantasy that crime is always solved, and bad people suffer consequences. Instead, we are shown the consequences of crime on the innocent and those who loved them, or in the case of Yohan, someone who came to be invested in their lives.