The Night of the 12th

"Something is amiss between men and women."

May 31, 2023
Dimitris Passas

First screened in the 75th Cannes Film Festival's Cannes Première section, The Night of the 12th initially seems to be another typical European police procedural but this first impression very soon dissipates as in the opening credits, the director and co-screenwriter Dominik Moll informs as that "Every year, the Criminal Investigation Department opens 800 murder investigations. Some are never resolved. This film is about one of these." Thus, the narrative chronicles the developments and procedures of a botched police investigation in the same vein to films such as David Fincher's Zodiac and Bong Joon-ho's Memories of Murder, however Moll's latest movie succeeds in leaving its own distinctive mark due to a plot that is grounded on realism and characters who couldn't be more persuasive. Perhaps, this is because the film is loosely based on Pauline Guéna’s book 18.3 - A Year With the Crime Squad (original title: 18.3 - Un année à la PJ), a non-fiction account of several real-life criminal cases, one of which provided the story setting for The Night of the 12th. Moll's motion picture, his most mature and artful work to date, swept the 2023 César Awards, nominated for ten and eventually winning six including Best Film, Best Direction, and Best Adaptation.

As it is the case with other recent European crime films, the French film keeps its focal point both on the plot and the outlining of its main characters, the two senior detectives assigned to the case of a teenage girl's brutal murder in the picturesque Alpine town of Grenoble. Furthermore, The Night of the 12th treads on familiar motifs, namely the violence against women in contemporary western societies, a subject that has become the bedrock for the genre's works recently, especially after the wake of the #MeToo movement which spread rapidly around the world, giving voice to several oppressed and abused women who were used to suffer in silence. Of course, the culprits are -almost always- men, either husbands or bosses or persons of authority who exploit their power which is derived from their physical advantage or social status to impose their will on their victims. Moll makes that explicit when one of the protagonists, Yohan (Bastien Bouillon), tells to the judge who wants to rekindle the interest in the case after three years of hitting dead ends: “I believe we can’t find him because all men killed Clara.” However, Moll stays vigilant against didacticism and prefers to convey his message through the nimble storytelling and the superb characterization. As Fabien Lemercier, in his review on Cineuropa, neatly puts it, the movie resembles "a gallery of individual portraits which (...) punctuate a three-year investigation as fascinating as it is appalling."

The story is centered around the two detectives working the case of Clara, a teenage girl who was murdered in her way home after a night out with her friends. The assailant threw gasoline on Clara and then set her in fire in a shocking scene that sets the tone of what is about to follow. The authorities proclaim that the killer has to be found regardless of the cost. Young Inspector Yohan (B. Bouillon) and the older, more seasoned and volatile in temper, cop Marceau (B. Lanners) will embark on a quest to find and arrest the killer. Amidst the stages of that exhausting procedure, that includes consecutive interrogations of the most likely suspects, phone tapping, video survreillance etc., the audience witness the development of a very particular bromance between the two colleagues. Marceau feels miserable as he is very close to divorcing his dear wife and Yohan allows him to stay in his house. The two men don't see eye to eye in many things as Yohan is the archetypal "good cop", always going by the book and staying loyal to the police protocols, while Marceau is more impulsive and he doesn't hesitate even to assault a person of interest for the investigation, putting the whole operation at risk. We also learn that the veteran detective has regretted joining the police force and feels nostalgic for his childhood dream to become a French language teacher. He also quotes verses from poems by Verlaine.

The isolated surroundings in Grenoble and the enormous, imposing mountains enclosing the town provide a fitting terrain for the story to unfold while the cinematography is exceptional with crepuscular shots and captivating optics, all indicative of the movie's high standard of production values. The performances are perhaps the film's strongest suit with both Bouillon and Lanners delivering authentic portrayals of their respective characters without a trace of hyperbole. Moll also aptly employs the image as metaphor when he shows Yohan biking in a huge velodrome all alone, going round and round in circles without really going anywhere, an action reflecting and mirroring the stalemate in the investigation of Clara's murder. The several interrogation scenes, all of them with suspects who become instantly detestable in the eyes of the audience for various reasons, also showcase the dramatic potency of the screenplay, which is co-written by Moll and Gilles Marchand, and there are times that we feel the sizzling tension emanating from the heated interactions. Apart from Yohan and Marceau, the director also emphasizes on the secondary characters, providing a mosaic of depravity: the rapper who has written songs about burning Clara alive; the teenager who can't help but giggle whenever he hears how Clara died; the older lover who has been previously convicted for grievous bodily harm against his wife. All make the audience suspicious, but the story keeps refuting our expectations, constantly reminding us that this is a story lacking any form of catharsis, so there is no chance for a happy ending.

In my eyes Dominik Moll's The Night of the 12th is one of the most compelling pieces of French cinema of the last few years and it deserves wider audiences and praise from the critics. It is a film of rare beauty, despite its grim main theme, and offers a great paradigm for how a modern police procedural should be. We all suspected the director's skills from his groundbreaking debut feature film With a Friend Like Harry while he has solidified his reputation through the more recent, eccentric crime motion picture Only the Animals. European cinema aficionados are not allowed to miss this one.


The Night of the 12th
La nuit du 12
Dominik Moll
Written by
Dominik Moll, Gilles Marchand
Bastien Bouillon, Bouli Lanners, Johann Dionet, Lula Cotton-Frapier, Théo Cholbi
Production Companies
Haut et Court Versus Production (co-production) Auvergne Rhône-Alpes Cinéma (co-production) Radio Télévision Belge Francophone (RTBF) (co-production) VOO (co-production) BE TV (co-production) Proximus (co-production) Canal+ (participation) Ciné+ (participation) Centre national du cinéma et de l'image animée (CNC) (support) Région Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes (support) Centre du Cinéma et de l'Audiovisuel de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles (support) Wallimage (support) Tax Shelter du Gouvernement Fédéral Belge (support) Inver Tax Shelter (support) Cinéventure 7 (in association with) Cinécap 5 (in association with) Cinémage 16 (in association with) O'Brother Distribution (participation)
115 min

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