As crazy as it might seem to be going to the movies in the middle of a heatwave in Paris, over two hours spent in an air-conditioned cinema afforded a much-needed respite from temperatures that have been edging above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). And when the film is as good as director Dominik Moll’s latest, La Nuit du 12 (The Night of the 12th), I might have enjoyed it even if the cinema had been as stiflingly hot as it was outside.
Moll, who is best known for the psychological thriller Harry, un Ami Qui Vous Veut du Bien (Harry, He’s Here to Help, 2000), succeeds in delivering a beautifully acted and thoughtful piece, based on Pauline Guéna’s book 18.3: Une Année à la PJ, about the horrific real-life murder of a young woman named Clara.
The original murder took place in the Versailles area, but the movie is set in the southeastern French city of Grenoble. As Moll has explained, he wanted to put some distance between the actual murder and the death depicted onscreen, and the contrast between the industrial city and the majestic mountains that surround it – which Moll calls “both beautiful and oppressive” – appealed to his directorial eye.
The film begins with two parties, one held to bid farewell to a retiring member of the all-male Grenoble investigative police team, and another that takes place among female friends. The theme of the contrast between uniquely male and female worlds runs throughout the movie. Clara (Lula Cotton-Frapier), after leaving her party, is confronted by a figure who throws gasoline in her face and sets her alight. The remainder of the movie focuses on the attempts by the police force, led by Yohan (Bastien Bouillon) and his sidekick Marceau (Bouli Lanners), to track down Clara’s murderer.
While many of the tropes of conventional cop dramas (such as terse police interviews with suspects and tensions between members of the investigative team) are present, La Nuit du 12 manages in many ways to transcend stereotypes, not least by making it clear early on that the film will be about an unsolved murder. The way the investigators go around and around in circles is echoed by scenes of Yohan trying to clear his mind by repeatedly cycling around a velodrome.
One question asked during the film, about why most murders are committed by men and why the police teams that investigate such murders are overwhelmingly male, brings out some uncomfortable truths and spotlights the misogynistic assumptions made about women like Clara, who is revealed to have had many sexual partners. Inevitably, the experiences of the male investigators, particularly Marceau, whose wife has just left him for her lover, influence the way they interact with the suspects.
Interestingly, the backstory of the film’s central character, Yohan, remains a mystery. All we know is that he lives alone in a small apartment, allowing Marceau to stay there after the breakup of his marriage. He continues to be obsessed with the case as the years go on and begins to move away from the macho cop culture as he interacts with two women, a judge (Anouk Grinberg) and the new female sidekick (Mouna Soualem). Bastien Bouillon should win acting awards for this film: the stillness and profundity of his performance are remarkable.
La Nuit du 12, which was shown as an avant-premiere at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, marks a triumphant return for Dominik Moll. Do go to see it, in fair weather or foul.Favorite