SIFF 2023: The Night of the 12th (La nuit du 12)

Directed by: Dominik Moll
Distributed by: TBA

Written by Taylor Baker


“The Night of the 12th” begins with a rare distinction that few police procedurals and detective narratives begin with, the promise that this case will go unsolved. Instead of being hindered by the promise that we will not find the killer, the conceit makes everyone tied to the central murder more pitiable, we’re more sympathetic to friends and family, and even forgiving to some of the supposed killers before we find a reason to discount their ability to commit the crime. That crime is a man lighting a young woman on fire with kerosene and a lighter as she walks home from a party.

In “The Night of the 12th” the film adaptation of the novel ‘18.3 – Une année à la PJ’ by Pauline Guéna director Dominik Moll swaps the intrigue that normally permeates detective tales for an authentic portrayal of the day-to-day events and interpersonal behavior of the people we meet along the course of the investigation. Transforming it into something of a sprawling authentic ensemble piece rather than the classic tale of harried detectives on the chase. An early scene where they break the news to Clara’s mother that her daughter has been murdered contains more emotion and subtlety than we normally get in the entirety of an average entry in the genre.

The majority of “The Night of the 12th” is a walk-and-talk procedural, with our detectives finding out who Clara was from her friends, acquaintances, and lovers. And Clara had many lovers, which the film uses as a clever reversal to get the audience to question how we view victims of crimes like murder when we find out they’ve had or have multiple partners. The way they can be discounted or blamed for their own responsibility in the crime that took their life is a refreshing bit of reflection in a genre so well-worn.

The grounded humanism of the direction and screenplay allows unorthodox story events to occur like the partner of the lead detective bursting out of the car as they drive away from yet another suspect. Erupting in anger out of a car might not seem that unorthodox in any detective narrative, but the fact that he runs off screen never to return is. This case eats away at the detectives working it, any of the suspects they meet could have done it, and at one point they comment that they very well could have done it. While searching for more leads they bring Clara’s friend back in for questioning and in a torrent of emotion she says she knows why it was done, because Clara was a girl, and that’s ultimately the closest we get to the truth.

“The Night of the 12th” Trailer

“The Night of the 12th” was screened as part of the 49th edition of the Seattle International Film Festival.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on film on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

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