CRITICISM – Dominik Moll masterfully stages a PJ investigation into a feminicide. A moving film.
Alone at night, Yohan pedals on the track of a velodrome, his head in the handlebars. He goes rounds. This is the first image of The Night of 12 . A perfect metaphor. An infernal and endless loop. Like the investigation into the assassination of Clara, a young girl doused in gasoline and burned alive by a hooded man as she was returning home to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne. She haunts this cop from the Grenoble judicial police.
Dominik Moll and his co-screenwriter, Gilles Marchand (to whom we owe Gregorythe excellent documentary series for Netflix on the Grégory affair), selected one story among others in Pauline Guéna’s book 18.3. A year at PJ (Éditions Denoël), story of twelve months immersed in the Versailles police services. The Night of 12 describes with realism and meticulousness the life of a group united by overtime, PV to type, marital disappointments and sordid crimes. It recalls the novels of Hugues Pagan, former cop and best active French thriller author. The distribution has something to do with it. Bastien Bouillon is perfect as a youthful and rigorous, melancholic and silent group leader. Bouli Lanners is just the opposite and just as good. His Marceau is a generous and emotional cop, able to recite Sentimental colloquium by Verlaine (“In the old lonely and frozen park / Two specters evoked the past”) and less and less able to keep his cool. We should be able to name their partners. Cops or suspects, for a scene or more, they are all terribly fair and true.
More than printer problems, Clara’s death keeps Yohan and his men awake. The victim’s exes make up the list of prime suspects. A guy from the bowling alley where Clara worked, in a relationship and worried about seeing his gap spread out in the public square (“Clara, it was not really my style”). A handsome kid from the climbing club (“Clara, she was a sex friend, she was not complicated”). A jealous guy from the city who thinks he’s a hardcore rapper and says on YouTube that he’s going to burn her (“Clara, she was not a faithful girl”). A misfit in his cabin, perhaps mythomaniac, certainly not romantic (“Clara, we slept together several times”). A loudmouth who hits her friends, met on Facebook (“Clara, she liked my animal side, we fucked hard”).
Fifty shades of misogyny, from lightest to darkest. Each interrogation deprives the spectator of a little more air. Tie the belly. Tear the heart.
It’s nothing compared to the confrontation between Yohan and Stéphanie, Clara’s best friend. The cop’s questions end up breaking her. “What does it change? Looks like I’m talking about a whore. She got killed because she was a girl. That’s it that’s all.”
The words “feminicide” or “toxic masculinity” are never spoken. Cops don’t talk like sociologists or psychologists. In this world, it is men who fight against the violence of other men. And it is the women who open Yohan’s eyes. Beautiful female characters served by magnificent performers. Stephanie (Pauline Serieys). Nadia (Mouna Soualem), the young recruit, the time of a hideout in a “submarine” at the scene of the crime. And the investigating judge, played superbly by Anouk Grinberg. It is in his office that Yohan splits the armour. “What drove me crazy was that all the guys we heard from could have done it. It’s something that’s wrong between men and women.”
This something wrong, The Night of 12 portrays it implacably. Without forcing the blackness of the line. It could have been called Elegy for Clara. Whatever its title, Dominik Moll signs the strongest French film of the year.