Police procedurals don’t usually start by saying that the crime at hand will not be solved. But Dominik Moll’s “The Night of the 12th” does just that, and then watches a French investigator labor away at a murder case before reluctantly abandoning it. This is a refreshingly grounded, deceptively plain picture of crime-fighting as a grind of false leads, workplace fatigue and no closure.
Walking home late from a party, Clara, a joyful teenager (Lula Cotton Frapier), is doused in fuel by a hooded stranger and set on fire. Yohan (Bastien Bouillon), an extremely square new leader of a judicial police unit, questions a series of sketchy and dismissive guys that Clara may have been involved with, turning up no definitive answers. Clara’s friend offers one answer that neatly sums up the misogyny of being subject to such random brutality: it was because she was a girl.
Likely suspects emerge, then fall away; phone call audio is analyzed, to no avail. After a few years, a judge takes interest in the cold case, funding new surveillance. But even though the inexpressive Yohan does seem like one of the good guys, he’s going in circles, and can’t even help his burned-out partner, Marceau (Bouli Lanners).
Despite all the best intentions, “cracking a case” just doesn’t happen sometimes, and the movie (based on a nonfiction book by Pauline Guéna) matter-of-factly avoids the magical thinking we’ve absorbed from decades of macho crime-fighting yarns. Instead, it’s a matter of coping with long-term, slow-motion frustrations and failure — something sadly closer to a lot of common experience than save-the-day heroism.
The Night of the 12th
Not rated. In French with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes. In theaters.