Released today in cinemas, La Nuit du 12 looks back on a sordid case of unresolved feminicide. Its director Dominik Moll makes it an unmissable punchy and sensitive thriller. Meet.
Previewed at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival in the “Cannes Première” section, The Night of 12 is the new realization of Dominik Moll (Harry, a friend who means well to you, Lemming, Only the beasts). The filmmaker returns with a visceral and captivating thriller, based on part of the book “18.3 – a year at the PJ” by Pauline Guéna.
This film follows the sordid and unsolved investigation of the judicial police – the murder of Clara (Lula Cotton Frapier), a young woman burned alive one night -, led by Yohan (Bastien Bouillon masterful), supported by Marceau (Bouli Lanners). Yohan will be deeply marked by this affair and what it exposes of the world around him and the permanent violence against women.
Met during his presentation at Cannes, Dominik Moll tells the microphone of AlloCiné behind the scenes of the writing and filming of La Nuit du 12, to discover now at the cinema.
AlloCiné: Why is it the story of Clara’s murder in the novel “18.3 – a year at the PJ” by Pauline Guéna that marked you the most and made you want to make a film?
Dominik Moll: In fact, I had a first click when I read the back cover. This is an extract which is the beginning of this investigation and where it is said “at the PJ, it is said that each investigator has a story that haunts him, a crime that hurts more than the others, et cetera, et cetera” . And so that made me want to read the book. And I liked this idea of the investigator obsessed with a case he can’t solve. Of the 500 pages of the book, it is the last two chapters that really take up this idea.
It’s a police investigation, so it’s a field that has been heavily marked out by television and cinema, but the particularity of the story of La Nuit du 12 is that we can’t find the culprit. And we are especially interested in what this non-resolution of the investigation produces on the investigators in relation to their work, their frustration.
With Gilles Marchand, we wanted to question the work of these PJ investigators also through the relationships between men and women. It’s a male-only environment that tries to catch criminals who are also male-dominated, with crimes often committed against women. The violence of other men also refers them to their own masculinity. It was important for us to provide this additional reading layer.
Was it important for you to show the very violent murder of Clara at the start of the film? Or have you wondered about its relevance?
With Gilles, we were convinced that we had to show the murder, without falling into complacency, but it was important to show it. Because it also creates stunning effects and you also have to realize the violence of this crime. There was a debate with the producers who were wondering if we weren’t going to be blamed for a certain complacency. But I already knew how I wanted to film it, in an almost somewhat abstract way, with very close-ups on a very wide shot.
Did you rely solely on Pauline Guéna’s novel or did you do other research? Did you call on PJ consultants to enrich the scenario a little?
It is the adaptation of the survey that is recounted in the last two chapters, but we also drew on all the observations she made elsewhere. For example, the idea of the investigator riding a trail bike to let off steam is something attributed to another investigator who has nothing to do with the stories. So we also picked like that on the right, on the left.
During the writing, we were in regular contact with Pauline. As soon as we had a question, we called her and when she didn’t have the answer, she contacted a policeman whose contact details she had kept during her immersion. So it was valuable.
But I still felt that it was not enough so I did a week of immersion at the PJ of Grenoble with the investigators of the criminal brigade. They agreed to receive us in a very open way to follow them on arrests, searches, hearings. And the important thing for me was to see the group dynamics and also the way they evacuate.
They are still faced with some pretty sordid things and they have the pressure of hierarchy and paperwork and they need to evacuate. It’s one thing to read it or hear it, but to see it and experience it was very valuable. And I also wanted a certain amount of veracity even if it remains fiction.
The case is indeed very tough. And there is a real sensitivity and a great sweetness in the character of Yohan. Bastien Bouillon is doing a remarkable job, like Bouli Lanners and the rest of the team. We believe in this group. How did you put together the cast and ensure that there was this chemistry, this cohesion?
I knew that this group dynamic was essential. So, with the casting director, we really did a lot of research. We first saw the actors individually and then we saw them as a group. And that’s how we, with different personalities, formed this group. So it was a long selection process.
I didn’t want to do reconstruction work, it had to remain fiction. Out of respect for the people involved or the parents of the victim, the idea was not to copy and paste. Already, in Pauline’s book, there is something very fictional in her way of relating things.
The editing is also very worked with this cyclical rhythm with the search for a suspect, his interrogation and a questioning of the investigator. This idea of going around in circles is also transcribed on the image with his laps at the velodrome to clear his head. It was a construction present from the beginning?
This construct was there in the script. The locations of the stages at the velodrome have moved a little. There is a first one at the very beginning of the film, which was not planned in the scenario. And then during the editing, we realized that it was good to start with that directly. This element of the velodrome and the laps of the track might seem a little decorative or anecdotal and yet we realized during the editing that it was really very important and essential. It’s a very visual and graphic illustration of his obsession with going around in circles.
And why did you choose to transpose the action to Grenoble?
The crime that inspired us took place in the Paris region. But I didn’t want to do reconstruction work, it had to remain fiction. Out of respect for the people involved or the parents of the victim, the idea was not to copy and paste. Already, in Pauline’s book, there is something very fictional in her way of relating things. And suddenly we wanted to relocate the action so that it would not be too close.
And then I like mountain scenery. The Maurienne valley has something very unique because it is a valley in the mountains. There is something beautiful and majestic and at the same time, it is a very industrial valley. The presence of the mountains is both beautiful and oppressive.
The female characters are not only stooges but intervene in key moments, tipping points, whether in the progress of the investigation or in the awareness of the investigators, who realize the reports of very different strengths between men and women and the daily violence against them.
The word and the role of women – be it the best friend, the judge or the young cop at the end – move Yohan forward in his journey or in any case suddenly build things in his head. These lyrics also question the derogatory and misogynistic reflections that call into question the lives of women.
Yohan wonders about his own functioning. And so, we very quickly felt that these three women were essential for his development but also to be a kind of sounding board in certain scenes and to represent an important word.