The Night of the 12th

At 3:07 a.m. in the Alpine town of Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, Clara Royer (Lula Cotton-Frapier) leaves the house of her best friend Nanie (Pauline Serieys), having decided to walk home.  She makes and sends a friendly video to Nanie just before a hooded figure steps out of the shadows, calls her name, douses her with a flammable liquid and sets it ablaze.  Yohan (Bastien Bouillon, "Only the Animals") and his older colleague Marceau (Bouli Lanners) of the Grenoble police department will soon become frustrated by the number of plausible suspects for the horrific murder which occurred “The Night of the 12th.”

Laura's Review: B+

Adapting a segment of Pauline Guéna's non-fiction book '18.3 - Une année à la PJ,' cowriter (with Gilles Marchand)/director Dominik Moll ("With a Friend Like Harry...") crafts an unconventional police procedural, one in which an unsolved crime haunts its investigators.  After receiving a wake-up call while questioning Nanie about one of them, Yohan will conclude ‘there’s something wrong between men and women.’

Yohan, whose department had just celebrated the retirement of their chief the same night as the murder, becomes tongue-tied trying to inform the victim’s mother (Charlene Paul, "Red Lights") of her death, mesmerized by a photo of the young Clara hugging a cat, the picture launching his obsession with solving the case.   The first suspect he and Marceau visits, Wesley (Baptiste Perais), identified by Nanie as her boyfriend, appeared to have taken the relationship far less seriously than Clara, more concerned that the investigation will reveal the hookups to his actual girlfriend than with Clara’s murder.  This emotional callousness begins an array of the violent tendencies of too many men toward women which will weigh upon Yohan.

A contact found on her phone, Jules Leroy (Jules Porier), tells the investigator they were ‘sex friends’ who worked out at the gym together.  He snickers discussing the killing.  Gabi Lacazette (Nathanaël Beausivoir) is one of the ‘bad boys’ Clara claimed to be attracted to and wrote a rap song about her saying he would ‘torch’ her, something he vehemently denies he intended to actually carry out.  Denis Douet (Benjamin Blanchy) is a weird townie who approaches the duo at night, saying he’s the one who sent them (anonymously) the clear yellow plastic disposable lighter he claims to have found near the crime scene.  Clara’s father (Matthieu Rozé) turns in a blood soaked shirt he found at the memorial there which is matched to domestic abuser Vincent Caron (Pierre Lottin), who says he left it to honor Clara and whose current partner defends him.

In the midst of all this, Yohan’s perspective will be turned around when Nanie asks him why it is so important to know if Clara slept with these suspects, a form of victim blaming.  Marceau’s confidences about his failing marriage have eerie echoes of the male resentment heard from these men, yet Marceau is so disgusted by what he hears, he ends up quitting the force.

Yohan lets off steam at night riding his bike around an oval track without beginning or end, just like the case he’s on, but years after it has gone cold, it will be two women who inspire him to keep going.  A judge (Anouk Grinberg, "The Innocent") learns Yohan asked to have the case transferred, but she gets funding for stakeouts and surveillance cameras at both the scene and Clara’s grave, turning up yet another creepy suspect, Mats (David Murgia, "The Brand New Testament").  A new colleague, Nadia (Mouna Soualem, "Munich"), asks Yohan if he finds it odd that it is usually men who commit these type of crimes and men who investigate them as she proves the anomaly.

Cinematographer Patrick Ghiringhelli alternates between eerily lit nighttime observations and clinical daytime investigations, lending to the psychological atmosphere Moll imbues his film with so well.  Olivier Marguerit’s ("Onoda") score features a chorus of female voices and suspense laden piano, an upbeat overture belying what is in store, repeated at film’s conclusion for its surprisingly hopeful conclusion, Yohan, on an incline, yes, but now bicycling out of doors

Robin's Review: B+

Film Movement opened "The Night of the 12th" in select theaters on 5/19/23.  Click here for play dates.  It is also in the lineup of the Boston French Film Festival at the Museum of Fine Arts - click here for the schedule.