Glasgow Film Festival 2023: The Night of the 12th

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

3 out of 5 stars

The Night of the 12th played as part of Glasgow Film Festival 2023.

Glasgow Film Festival 2023: Nightsiren

A harrowing, yet beautiful take on the patriarchy and internalised misogyny.

Synopsis: A young woman returns to her native mountain village, searching for answers about her troubled childhood, but as she tries to uncover the truth, ancient superstitions lead the villagers to accuse her of witchcraft and murder.

It is easy to take aim at the patriarchy and the men who sustain it, but perhaps more difficult to identify and probe the role that women can play in upholding the restrictive values it represents. This is what separates Nightsiren from other films exploring the idea of the ‘witch hunt’, whether in a period or modern setting. In the ‘lonely village’ of Nightsiren, men, women, young people and older people are all invested in maintaining the traditions that hold them in a state of often violent oppression.

After a jaw-dropping opening scene in which we meet Šarlota (Natalia Germani) as a child fleeing her abusive mother, there is a time jump to her returning to the village as an adult, drawn by a letter detailing an inheritance she needs to collect. Finding the village mostly unchanged, still steeped in the same rituals and constraints she tries to find solace with Mira (Eva Mores), a woman who also seems at odds with the village.

The gender politics around the upholding of those rituals are woven throughout, both within the village and the wider world. During an early scene, Mira attempts to hide Šarlota from a tradition in which water is thrown onto women, despite their requests to not partake. That custom, with an implicit relationship to ‘witch tests’ and ‘ducking’ takes on greater relevance as the villagers’ anger against the women. That women are seen to accept and in some cases even welcome that anger results in some of the film’s most uncomfortable scenes.

Arranged into multiple chapters and relying on flashbacks to fill in important details, the film is occasionally at risk of dawdling a little too much. However, what it lacks in pace it makes up for with near-celestial, shimmering scenes set in the forest and embedding meaning in the smallest moments throughout. A dance sequence, for example, serves as a moment of hope as the younger members of the village all appear to be on the same page. The moment is short-lived, showing just how tight the grip of their way of life is upon them as it signals a descent into further horror.

The photography furthers the link between the women and nature, with snakes and wolves operating as threats, protectors and everything in between. Despite the links to nature, the film allows space for the women to discuss their discomfort with the expectation of women to be maternal while also highlighting the distress and burden of pregnancy and miscarriage. Šarlota’s mother is an abusive figure and the other women in the village, too, despite it being against their best interests – this questions that biological essentialism and places it in a wider context of complicity in archaic, damaging systems. That the natural world in the film is presented as both freeing and stifling adds another level of intrigue than the conventional witchy reliance on nature narrative.

Nightsiren never wants viewers to be completely comfortable, frequently presenting challenging scenes and ideas. Despite that discomfort, the story within is a gripping one that feels bigger than the narrative mysteries it details.

4 out of 5 stars

4 out of 5 stars

Nightsiren played as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2023.