A contemplative crime thriller grappling with gendered crime.
Synopsis: It is said that every investigator has a crime that haunts them, a case that hurts him more than the others, without him necessarily knowing why. For Yohan that case is the murder of Clara.
The key difference between a narrative crime thriller and the ever-popular true crime genre is that the thriller has the decision to provide answers or not. In the slippery world of true crime, the real story may not ever be brought to light leaving gaps. Of course, the crime thriller can also choose to leave unanswered questions but the expectation is usually toward a more closed narrative that offers a satisfying conclusion. The Night of the 12th both finds novelty and misfires in attempts to bridge both ways of handling crime on screen.
Yohan (Bastien Bouillon) is a newly appointed police chief, inheriting a majority-male force complete with ongoing divorces, deeply-held prejudices and a treatment of the work as a 9-5 rather than a dedication to solving cases. When a young woman is brutally murdered he is forced to confront the current state of the team and wider society.
Throughout, the film offers theories about the frequency and ferocity of violence against women. At different points, violent misogynistic rap lyrics, jealousy, domestic abuse and victim-blaming all have their time under the microscope. So too does the police force itself, seemingly more absorbed in their own macho posturing, financial issues and bureaucratic struggles than solving crimes. Trying to fit everything in does make each element slightly thin and furthermore, makes the presentation of Clara’s (Lula Cotton-Frapier) murder as a violent spectacle a jarring addition, at odds with the film’s rather more careful treatment of victims and considerations of violence against women.
On a technical level, there is a sombre, sober quality to filming after the initial moment of violence. That steadiness grounds the viewer with the characters, placing them into the investigation without the need for cutaways to distract. In this sense, the weight of the case can be felt. Only in Yohan’s cycling sessions do we get to embrace a degree of speed, with the rest of the film echoing the stops and starts of the police work. Despite the film’s early statistic, it still plays with that ebb and flow with each new suspect bringing a kind of hope for resolution. This is a testament to director Dominik Moll’s handling of the material, allowing the pace to fit the investigation. A recurring choral score does much to aid the tension, as do solid performances across the board.
Some of the issue within The Night of the 12th is that it runs the risk of preaching to the converted. Those familiar with the issues within the police system and violent men are unlikely to find any new insight here and those who would deny that systemic violence are unlikely to have their minds changed. Not for want of trying, however, and one of the film’s most memorable and moving moments lies with Clara’s friend Nanie (Pauline Serieys) stating that her friend was killed because she was a woman. The delivery and poignancy of that line is one of the film’s strengths.
The Night of the 12th is a technically proficient thriller that seeks to probe the current social and political situation through the lens of one woman’s tragic death. It finds the sadness and frustration, but doesn’t find anything particularly radical or new to say about it.
3 out of 5 stars
The Night of the 12th played as part of Glasgow Film Festival 2023.