Dominik Moll • Director of The Night of the 12th
"The main character needed to question his own attitude, as a man, towards women"
- CANNES 2022: The French-German filmmaker’s new movie is an ensemble police investigation reflecting a frayed society and broken male-female relationships
Making his return to the Croisette, where he’d previously presented Harry, He’s Here to Help and Lemming [+see also:
film profile] in competition in 2000 and 2005, Dominik Moll has won over audiences with The Night of the 12th [+see also:
interview: Dominik Moll
film profile], which was unveiled in the Cannes Première section of the 75th Cannes Film Festival.
Cineuropa: What attracted you to Pauline Guéna’s book 18.3. Une année à la PJ, which inspired you to make The Night of the 12th?
Dominik Moll: It stood out thanks to a sentence that’s emphasised in the book and which also features in the film: "in the Criminal Investigation Department, we say that every investigator has a crime which haunts them". It aroused my curiosity; I thought it was interesting and I bought it. It’s not a novel, but it’s not journalism either, because there’s a really fictitious side to it. Anyway, I was reading it, but I couldn’t see a film in it and I also thought that there’d already been so many series covering that particular ground, right up until the final two chapters covering the investigation which features in The Night of the 12th: Clara’s murder and investigator Yohann who was and still is obsessed with this case because it hasn’t been solved. There were some incredible aspects to this investigation which I found pretty fictitious, like when the case is re-opened three years later, with the hideout, the hidden camera in the fake gravestone and the man who does strange things on Clara’s grave, although it turns out it wasn’t him either… What I really liked was that we don’t find out who did it, because it’s an angle that we don’t often see, except in Zodiac, to a certain extent. Usually, when there’s a police investigation, the guilty party is found in the end, it’s what the audience expects, in any event. But not in this instance, and it encourages us to shift focus elsewhere.
You set the tone immediately, in fact, with the text specifying that the case remains unsolved.
We introduced the text after several initial versions of the script. We got people to read it and their feedback was rather positive, but many of them were frustrated not to find out who did it in the end. So we added this text as an introduction to the debate, making it clear that we don’t find the guilty person. But even with this in mind, people forget it a little bit while watching the film. But setting the tone in this way allows us to explore these investigators’ daily lives, their frustration and group life. But my co-screenwriter Gilles Marchand very quickly realised that the real guiding thread was male-female relationships and what’s not quite right about them, linking back to male violence against women. We definitely didn’t want it to feel forced and for people to say "oh look, a couple of 60-year-old men trying to get on board with the MeToo movement and pretend they’re modern" (laughter). It needed to be subtler than that, but the main character’s journey needed to lead him towards a place where he starts to question his own attitude, as a man, towards women, like when he’s challenged by the victim’s friend: what does it matter whether she slept with one person or another? Surely that insinuates that she was asking for it? That’s where Yohann realises that he might be caught up in the wrong kind of thinking without realising it; his certainties begin to falter and he starts to change and see things differently. He realises that in order to change the male world of police investigations, we firstly need to make it less male but also accept help from women who can bring something different to the table.
The film’s a thriller, a genre you’ve always been fond of, but it’s also a reflection of a society.
It’s an ideal result when you manage to combine the two elements, although thrillers which don’t reflect society can work well too. But my interest in film was influenced by Hitchcock and certain aspects of this remain: playing with feelings and with suspense, etc. The advantage of genre film - thrillers, crime films, horror movies and the like - is that there’s a basic standard, which means viewers pretty much know what they’re going to get. So you can use all that whilst also introducing societal themes more easily, without turning them into thesis films. It allows us to transport viewers elsewhere.
(Translated from French)
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