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An intriguing idea is explored clumsily in La Nuit du 12, which never decides whether it wants to be a small drama or a big suspenseful thriller.

Last month La Nuit du 12 was the big winner at the César Awards, the French equivalent of the Oscars, where it picked up prizes for best picture, director, adapted screenplay and supporting actor. While not the worst of choices, it's debatable whether the film will stand the test of time though.

Writer-director Dominik Moll at first seems to bring a typical French thriller to the big screen with La Nuit du 12, including conflicted cops, a brooding atmosphere and the gruesome death of a 21-year-old girl burned alive. Potential culprits crop up every ten minutes or so, and as the police force tries to build its case frustrations within the team start to derail the investigation.

But then it turns out that Moll isn't really interested in whodunits. The investigation falls completely to the wayside and as months - and years - progress, it's the cancer of dealing with an unsolved case that takes hold. The approach, borrowed from a non-fiction book, intrigues and could have made for a fascinatingly different crime film. Alas, the execution leaves much to be desired.

La Nuit du 12 is crippled by characters who are written in broad strokes and who have the annoying tendency to spell out their entire backstory in big, tedious chunks of dialogue. The direction is more TV than film, the atmosphere not sufficating enough, the passing of time handled clunkily.

I'd be hard-pressed to call La Nuit du 12 a bad film, because the premise continues to hold promise - and regularly pays dividends - until the final scenes. Yet to end on the tiniest of whimpers instead of on an emotional bang is unforgivable.

release: 2022

director: Dominik Moll

starring: Bastien Bouillon, Bouli Lanners, Mouna Soualem, Anouk Grinberg


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