Unsolved crimes make for dark cavities in such disturbing thrillers as Baran bo Odar’s The Silence (2010) or Hans Herbots’s The Treament (2014). Dominik Moll’s compelling procedural is closer in tone to the Hughes brothers’ From Hell or David Fincher’s Zodiac, albeit without the celebrity of those cases.
Adapted from Pauline Guéna’s book 18.3: A Year with the Crime Squad, an embedded study of the regional directorate of judicial police in Versailles inspired by David Simon’s Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, the film opens with a stark set of French statistics: “Each year there are 800 murders, 20 per cent of which are never solved.” It then dramatises a horrific murder.
Clara (Lula Cotton Frapier), a popular teenager, is walking home on the outskirts of Grenoble when an unseen assailant douses her with petrol and sets her alight. The young, ambitious Yohan (Bastien Bouillon), and his older, wearier partner, Marceau (Lanners), take up the case and soon find a string of possible culprits and former lovers.
Could it be the local weirdo who hangs around Clara’s shrine? The aspiring young rapper who recorded a rhyme about setting Clara on fire? Or a thug with a record of domestic abuse and a wife who seems prepared to vouch for him?
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By relocating a Parisian crime to the French Alps, Moll and his cinematographer Patrick Ghiringhelli visibly stifle Yohan’s frustrated inquiries. The comings and goings among the gruff, macho unit are not particularly interesting. But The Night of the 12th, which was nominated for 10 César Awards, winning in six categories, including best picture, is otherwise absorbing.
The thoughtful script, written by Moll and Gilles Marchand, notes the problem is that any one of the men could have done it, and that “there is something very wrong between men and women”.
Various exchanges raise pertinent points: why, if most violent crimes are committed by men against women, are most of the investigators male? Why does every question about Clara’s relationships feel loaded and accusatory? In common with the crime at the centre of the drama, there are no easy solutions.