Review: The Night of the 12th

Director:  Dominik Moll

Stars:  Lulu Cotton-Frapier, Bastien Bouillon, Bouli Lanners

Set betwixt the picturesque spires of the French Alps, Dominik Moll’s police procedural The Night of the 12th sets out its stall in its opening typeface, which advises that it tells a representative tale of one of many unsolved murders on the country’s ledgers. We go into the drama with open eyes, then, aware that this piece aspires to join the likes of Zodiac or Memories of Murder – by consensus the two best ‘unsolved murder’ movies of the 21st century.

On the titular evening in October of 2016, young blonde Clara Royer (Lulu Cotton-Frapier) meets her horrific end; doused with accelerant and torched by a balaclava-clad assailant. She burns to death. Newly-appointed Grenoble police captain Yohan Vivès (Bastien Bouillon) heads up the taskforce whose duty it is to investigate the crime. Their canvasing yields an array of potential suspects, and it transpires that Clara was quite promiscuous. A portrait is slowly painted of a sexually liberated young woman, and of the shady men she often fell in with. Vivès is daunted to discover that any one of them might have been the culprit, while gravelly elder detective Marceau (Bouli Lanners) rapidly runs out of patience.

The Night of the 12th opens with Vivès cycling loops on a velodrome; a recurring motif that immediately foretells of an investigation doomed to travel in frustrating circles. Even the shape of the overall narrative has an ouroboros-like feel; beginning with an ending (the retirement of Vivès’ predecessor) and ending with a beginning (Vivès’ first efforts cycling out in the area’s rugged terrain). Perhaps worried that we’ll miss the obvious metaphor, Moll and co-screenwriter Gilles Marchand highlight it within the text of the piece. It isn’t the first time characters are moved to vocalise thoughts or ideas already conveyed cinematically.

Through the footwork of the investigation, Vivès and his team encounter an array of spurious males who lack credibility. One young lad seems shockingly unmoved by Clara’s death, distracted by a funny memory when questioned. Another local who squats in an old shed purposefully draws the investigation’s attention as if flirting with the drama of arrest. He’s not the only one, actually. Marceau’s prime suspect – a wife-beater named Caron (Pierre Lottin) – drapes his own bloodstained clothing over Clara’s vigil as if extending an overture to the police, waving a literal red flag. There’s a perversion to these men inviting themselves into the limelight. A toxicity that The Night of the 12th is keen to question.

If the pervasiveness of masculine violence is to be drawn as a plague entrenching France, then the all-male investigative team illuminates these issues all by itself, but in the film’s third act – following a sudden time-jump – subtext is again made text when a female rookie named Nadia (Mouna Soualem) opens up a dialogue on the subject within a scene. It’s the other key example of the script second-guessing how savvy it’s audience is.

With it’s vertiginous setting, murder mystery and the fallen star of it’s victim, The Night of the 12th feels as though it owes an obvious debt to Twin Peaks, but that’s where the similarities end. Moll favours subdued realism and his work is typified by clean, tasteful frames shorn of eccentricity. The only element of quirk in the entire picture is a malfunctioning printer in the police station corridor. Not that such dramas need kook, but the prevailing absence of eccentricity in The Night of the 12th renders it competent, workmanlike, and miles away from the aforementioned genre milestones with which it might have shared a spotlight.

It is interesting and welcome that the late addition of women to the picture helps rejuvenate the case (not only Soualem’s presence as Nadia but also Anouk Grinberg’s enjoyable turn as an instigating judge), but the effect is temporary and ultimately fruitless, lending such efforts the shadow of pessimism. Moll’s fealty to the realities of murder investigations is admirable, and this is sturdy work for all involved, but it’s rendered with as much intensity as a Sunday evening ITV drama and, ultimately, is about as forgettable.

5 of 10

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close