Around 20% of murder cases in France go unsolved, the opening text of this film informs. The horrific torching of a young woman on her way home from a friend’s is one of them. It is Yohan’s (Bastien Bouillon) first operation as investigator-in-charge, and the fact that the culprit was never caught gnaws at him.

The feature’s premiere on the night of the 20th started off under an unlucky star: the French-Belgian co-production wasn’t subtitled. With some films, audiences can still piece together what is happening by action and tone alone, but in the case of a dialogue-heavy crime drama such as The Night of the 12th this is virtually impossible. Non-French speakers started clapping and whistling to call attention to this problem, which obviously confused the present cast and crew. An international shouting match began, before the projection was stopped and, after a technical break, restarted with English subtitles.

Director Dominik Moll, who competed for the Palme d’Or in 2000 and 2005 with Harry, He’s Here to Help and Lemming respectively, veers away from his penchant for thrillers and applies himself to a slower paced police procedural. The knowledge of where this investigation will lead robs the picture of much of its potential for suspense, even though filmmakers like David Fincher and Bong Joon-ho proved it can be done. But in Moll’s adaptation of Pauline Guéna’s non-fiction account of her year spent with the French judicial police, the audience is not given sufficient reason to puzzle over the suspects themselves or engage with any of the characters.

The police officers are sketched as bland and forgettable, perfectly summarised in a scene in which Yohan’s partner tells him about the reason for his divorce: just as one thinks he’s got to the point of his story, it drags on further and ends on an unsatisfying lull. A number of viewers will likely be too spoiled by the super-smart mindhunters portrayed on American whodunnits to appreciate that this modest portrayal is far more authentic to real police work. 

The dead girl’s best friend is given surprising nuance and Pauline Serieys plays her with contemporary awareness of the department’s implied victim-blaming. In a similar manner, the female police officer who joins the squad at a late stage in the film raises the reasonable question of why crimes that are almost exclusively committed by men are almost exclusively investigated by them too. But two or three throwaway lines are not enough to supply any particular insight into what could have been done differently to solve the crime or give this feature any lasting impact.

Cannes introduced a new Première section to bring films to the festival that don’t fit in any of the previous categories. It is quite apparent why that is the case for The Night of the 12th: it not a cinematic experience, but rather a made-for-TV movie, to watch as a more elevated alternative to Midsomer Murders.

★★☆☆☆

Selina Sondermann

The Night of the 12th (La Nuit du 12) does not have a UK release date yet.

For further information about the event visit the Cannes Film Festival website here.

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