The Girl with a Bracelet (La fille au bracelet)
Stéphane Demoustier’s stolid, compelling judicial drama puts accusation itself on trial. The Girl with a Bracelet (La fille au bracelet) is less an exposé of the film’s eponymous character than of the processes by which we suspect and judge those accused.
Sixteen-year old Lise Bataille (Melissa Guers) is arrested for the brutal murder of her teenaged friend. Evidence is circumstantial, but she’s the last person to be with the girl alive. Two years later, after an extended house-arrest, Lise faces a taut, probing trial. As her private life is peeled back through legal battle, are the revelations signs of Lise’s youthful experimentation or of malice aforethought?
Did she do it or didn’t she? Demoustier’s concise script, based on Gonzalo Tobal and Ulisses Poras’s 2018 crime thriller The Accused, certainly keeps you guessing throughout. While this is standard routine for a whodunit, the direction strips back the pulp and tantalising genre tricks. There is an unsettling frankness to the proceedings through its still close-ups, unelaborate editing and stark palette (the courtroom, most evocatively, is all sleek, blood-red walls). Only the occasional heavy-handedness of composer Carla Pallone’s dark, brooding strings upsets the ambiguity.
Guers’s is an intriguingly impervious presence on-screen. Does her disarming reticence, percolating with spikes of nonchalance and agitation, indicate the terror of being found out, or the humiliation of being unfairly prodded? The actor’s naturalistic, intelligent performance hardly lets on. Similarly, Roschdy Zem and Chiara Mastroianni’s affecting performances as Lise’s guarded, unravelling parents, at odds with their public convictions and emotional support, only add layers to the doubt.
Yet, lingering on the sterile courtroom glass and Guers’s unfocused gaze, Demoustier forces us to catch ourselves in the reflection. What is the basis of our suspicion and judgement? What expression or acts of remorse, guilt or malice do we – should we – expect from the defendant and why? What details of their private life are pertinent or irrelevant, prosecuted by generational prudishness rather than by relevant evidence? In entertaining these questions, are we already open to manipulation? The director-writer poses subtle questions like these as the case unfolds, offering less and less assurance in any easy conclusions drawn from our spectatorship.
The Girl with a Bracelet is a rare courtroom thriller that asks you to commit to being the jury. Be warned that it isn’t often the character’s self under scrutiny, but your own.
The Girl with a Bracelet is released digitally on Curzon Home Cinema on 26th June 2020.
Watch the trailer for The Girl with a Bracelet here: