The Night of the 12th
French cinema has long produced classic crime films (the works of Jean Pierre Melville standing out especially). The latest police procedural to hail from the continent is The Night of the 12th, based on a real-life crime that sees two mismatched detectives trying to solve the murder of a 21-year-old girl set on fire on her way home one night. This latest from veteran director Dominik Moll has proven a smash hit in its native country, winning six César Awards including Best Film, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director.
The story opens not with the crime itself but with a retirement party among the crime squad, introducing viewers to some of the key players who will reach their wits’ end during the case. Yohan (Bastien Bouillon) is dedicated to his job, cycling around a local velodrome track in his spare time, clearly driven to succeed. Marceau (Bouli Lanners) is meanwhile far more cynical, jaded and close to an unpleasant divorce. The contrasting attitudes of the pair work well, colouring their response to the case in question and how to solve it, and adding shades of levity to an otherwise dark story.
Bouillon is at the heart of what makes The Night of the 12th work, embodying Yohan’s fierce determination to find the culprits and the sense of remorse and regret that ultimately comes from not being able to solve the case.
With a narrative depicting an unsolved crime, Moll is able to capture a feeling of tension and anxiety throughout, a number of suspects linked to Clara all seeming capable of her death, which pushes the police to their absolute limit. Comparisons might be drawn with David Fincher’s Zodiac, but they would do The Night of the 12th a disservice: it is a tight procedural that reels its audience in and doesn’t let go. Olivier Marguerit’s score captures a prescient feeling of dread and suspense as viewers are glued to the investigation, despite the inevitability of its failure.
Moll bottles the sense of a fractured community and their response (or lack thereof) to Clara’s death, featuring a mountain backdrop that is both visually stunning but also foreboding. The lack of thrills makes the story even more compelling – following mundane police efforts never stops it from being an engrossing watch.
The Night of the 12th is a bleak look at the failed investigation of a particularly barbaric crime that shines a light on policing in France and the nature of obsession. It’s a brooding, tense affair, in spite of us knowing the outcome from the offset. The performances help elevate things, in particular Bastien Bouillon’s commendable leading portrayal, selling Yohan’s doggedness and frustration.
The Night of the 12th is released in select cinemas on 31st March 2023.
Watch the trailer for The Night of the 12th here: