Full disclaimer: I tend to watch probably too much true crime television. I’ve watched about every episode of Homicide Hunter (Joe Kenda), Forensic Files, and plenty of other detective shows based on real cases. I find them fascinating, and my wife would seriously like to know what else is on our television. As a result, I tend to also gravitate towards real cases depicted in movies and documentaries as well. Today’s film, The Night of the 12th, deals with a real case based in France. However, this one has a hook. Whereas almost every case that we tend to see on television is solved and the murderer goes away to jail, this one has a very different ending. Let’s take a look and see if we can still enjoy this experience.
Yohan Vives (played by Bastien Bouillon) is cycling around a track alone lap after lap. Since he is doing this at night, he can zone in on his thoughts as his body continues to wrap around the circle of movement.
After that exhibition of speed and deep thought, we are notified to the fact that “Each year, the French police open more than 800 murder investigations; 20% remain unsolved. This film is about one of them.”
October 12th, 2016. We are at an office party for the retiring captain, Tourancheau (played by Nicolas Jouhet), who is turning over the reins of the department to young Yohan. Tourancheau is then asked to make a speech and subsequently smile for a few pictures.
Three hours and seven minutes later: Saint-Jean De Maurienne; we can see a dog running through the streets. Clara Royer (played by Lula Cotton Frapier) is leaving a party and tells all of her friends goodbye including her bestie, Nanie (played by Pauline Serieys). She then walks down the road past a cat. Clara takes out her phone, does a video of herself, and sends it to Nanie, calling her the best friend ever. She continues until she reaches a park, where a shadowy figure dressed in black calls her out by name. The person then throws lighter fluid on her and lights the lighter. Soon the young woman is ablaze and runs across the park. The flames soon consume her until she is nothing but charred remains.
Our next scene we join newly-anointed captain, Yohan Vives, along with senior detective Marceau (played by Bouli Lanners) and Boris (played by Julien Frison), who is somewhat new to the force, on the road to the murder scene. They arrive and inspect what is left of the body but are able to identify the person as Clara Royer. Their next step is to visit the parent’s home, and the mother (played by Charline Paul) happens to be there tending to her garden. They take her inside and break the news of her daughter to her. The mother is in disbelief and starts screaming at the police. She does not calm down until Nanie shows up at the house after checking in on her fallen friend. Nanie also mentions the name of Wesley Fontana (played by Baptiste Perais) as Clara’s boyfriend. It would appear that the police have their first suspect, but as we know, it is not going to be that easy to find the perpetrator of this horrible crime.
As the suspect list grows longer and longer by each bit of information that is revealed, the patience and psyche of this department are tested time and time again until it reaches a breaking point. Per the opening information, this case indeed never gets solved, and we are left to make our own guesses as to who it might be. (More than likely, the viewer will form a couple of their own theories by the time we reach the credits.) There are some fine performances here, with my favorite being Bouli Lanners as the grizzled veteran detective. Bastien Bouillon also does a fine job here as the captain who seems unflinching at first, but as the case evolves, so do his emotions. Also, I deeply appreciate that the emotions of mother and father (played by Matthieu Roze) feel extremely genuine. A lot of times these grieving parent roles are throwaways, but that was not the case here at all.
With that said, this is a tough watch from an entertainment point of view. I agree with the film’s decision to preface the entire film with the premise that this case isn’t going to be solved, but at least glitz it up a little. One of the greatest true-crime-type movies is Zodiac. Spoiler: they never find the true murderer in that movie either. But what they do create are plenty of tense moments and scenes where we think that they have found that killer. Nods to the camera; in other words, plenty of places where we as the audience can have discussions about what we think happened. But that’s not present here. In fact they don’t even present much in the ways of evidence here except for a random lighter that someone found.
I get that the idea of this film is that it is a very truthful look at French police work. But do we really need to have a scene about paperwork that carries on into the deep hours of the night? Is this film perhaps intended as something to show young recruits to let them know what real police work is like? If that is the case, then mission succeededm I guess. But for the general viewing public, this film is not going to be very interesting to most of them. This is the kind of case that would show up on a French version of Unsolved Mysteries, but a feature film? It also doesn’t help that we feel more sorry for the victim’s parents than the victim herself as the movie drags on to its finish.
Film Movement brings us this film in the DVD format. There are Blu-ray releases for this film in the UK, Germany, and France. (Be wary that only the UK copy will have English subtitles. most likely, and of course be aware of region coding). It is in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with 5.1 Dolby Digital French (and an option for 2.0 as well) with English Subtitles.
On the disc, we also get a fantastic short film called Harbor, directed by Paul Marques Duarte. In this film, an English teacher, Adele (played by Marie Bunel) goes on a ferry to England with her students. Amongst her students, she finds a 15-year-old boy (played by N’Tarila Kouka) who is actually a migrant stowaway. Adele makes the decision to protect the boy and “harbor” him until they can reach safe passage. This film is honestly more entertaining than the feature itself. It’s a shame it wasn’t turned into a longer effort than about 23 minutes. Pardon the pun, but this film had a boatload of nominations and wins at film festivals from North Carolina to Korea.
The Night of the 12th won a bunch of awards on its own, from the Cesar Awards, which is the French’s version of the Academy Awards, including Best Director (Dominik Moll), Best Film and Best Supporting Actor (Bouli Lanners). I did feel it was a very well acted and directed film and certainly deserved at least some of the accolades bestowed upon it. However, I wouldn’t be honest with myself if I didn’t mention that the source material did not warrant a full two-hour film. There are going to be a lot of people after those minutes that are going to throw up their hands and go, “Is that it?” I admit, I have been conditioned by “glamorized” American detective work, but for a movie that I was very interested in seeing, I am leaving somewhat disappointed. Recommended to those who are willing to accept that a solution is sometimes not possible but garner excitement from the method as opposed to tracking down the criminal. Enjoy.