31 Mar 23
When trying to untangle the threads of stories that have caused others so much pain, to what extent can someone truly stay objective? Is that even desirable? The Night Of The 12th, the latest film from French director Dominik Moll (Harry, He's Here To Help, Only The Animals) and the winner of the Lumière award for Best Film, is a gripping police procedural that puts the humanity of all involved front and centre.
Where most thrillers tend to shield the audience from the emotional toll of grisly cases with scientific or psychological jargon, reducing dramatic events to a morbid puzzle, Moll instead crafts an utterly riveting film that does not deny the reality – at times painful, at others beautiful – of being part of and affected by the world around us.
Yohan Vivès (Bastien Bouillon) has only just taken over as head of the detective bureau of the local police department when he is assigned to the harrowing murder of a young woman in her sleepy mountain village.
Among his colleagues, Yohan stands out, approaching his work and his daily life methodically, with no words or energy wasted. But impassive he is not. He is attentive to his own emotions and those of others and seems a haven of calm and peace at the office, and in the midst of a very painful and frustrating investigation.
So much so that some of his colleagues, who in group situations are about as bullyish and crass as you might expect, open up to him about their own worries.
Chief among them is Marceau (Belgian actor Bouli Lanners), a detective with more years of experience under his belt and a man therefore more cynical about the odds of solving this or any case – a mood not helped by his own problems at home, which he confesses to Yohan, his friend and now boss.
Although the intimacy between these men is still limited, cushioned by casual office bullying and the occasional vulgar joke, these are detectives more sensitive than we may be used to, and Moll's film is particularly fascinating when it shows the way this humanity shines through in their work.
Yohan's interrogation technique is to say very little, which often leads others to fill the silence with the information he needs.
If his thoughtful qualities stand in contrast with most on-screen detectives, here they also jar with the callousness of many of the men he and his colleagues interview during their investigation.
The victim's various male acquaintances range from the completely indifferent to the vaguely insulting and the downright creepy, and more than the difficulty of solving the murder, this is what keeps Yohan and Marceau up at night.
Shot through with moments of lyricism, full of arresting images (take a bow, DP Patrick Ghiringhelli) and with an existential atmosphere, The Night Of The 12th is a thriller as suspenseful as it is thought-provoking, a brooding reflection on empathy and connection that nudges itself in the mind like a persistent thought and imprints on the memory like a haunting dream. Elena Lazic
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