Review: Through the Night
- VENICE 2023: Delphine Girard’s hard-hitting and meticulous first feature film revolves around a striking and unprecedented trio: a woman, a rapist and the policewoman who answered her distress call
"I believe you, but in law terms it’s intangible." By way of Through the Night [+see also:
interview: Delphine Girard
film profile], a debut feature film selected in competition within the Giornate degli Autori line-up, hosted by the 80th Venice Film Festival, Delphine Girard questions society’s collective and individual handling of rape. What are the consequences for victims and for perpetrators? In what context and time-period does “after” take place?
It all begins one night in the passenger seat of a car which is speeding along a deserted road. Inside it are a man and a woman. She’s on the phone. She’s calling her sister. At least, that’s what she wants the man believe. What she’s actually doing is making a 999 call to the police, trying to convey the message that she has just been raped and that she feels she’s in danger.
This introduction was also central to Delphine Girard’s previous film, A Sister, which was in the running for the Best Short Film Oscar in 2020. The present film sees the director returning to her trio of characters and to her three main actors. Selma Alaoui plays Aly, a free-spirited and enthusiastic young woman who tries as best she can to shake off the victim status which she refuses to carry around with her. Veerle Baetens is Anna, the call handler whose life is turned upside down by a nocturnal phone call and who’s obsessed with the future of this woman, yet another rape victim, and then with the labyrinthine justice system. Last but not least, Guillaume Duhesme is the man, Dary, the rapist, whose perfect son and perfect neighbour image just don’t fit with our idea of an attacker, and who’s best off keeping quiet.
The director interweaves these three narrative lines, crossing and uncrossing them. She brings together two protagonists whom we rarely see in the same shot in fiction: the raped woman and the rapist. And whilst our empathy inevitably goes to Aly, we soon realise that Dary’s account will prove decisive; that while he doesn’t pass comment on what has happened, Aly thrashes around, trapped in a suffocating spiderweb. It’s her story which is questioned by the court, her honesty, her morality; her potential guilt that is scrutinised. She isn’t a good victim, neither in how she comes across in her story nor in her refusal to comply with the investigation. Unwittingly, it becomes her responsibility to protect other women from a possible predator by winning her case, and she has to learn to be patient and to hold out for the time that justice takes in order to win compensation. But what compensation, she wonders? At the same time, we follow the evolution of Dary, who initially loses his footing and returns home to live with his mother - a wonderful background character played by Anne Dorval, whose utter heartbreak in the face of this tragedy is keenly felt - before he bounces back. Last but not least, Anna finds herself deeply moved by yet another woman’s story, lending a counterpoint and distance to the film, before taking the road of sorority with Aly in a much-needed moment of solace.
A mosaic film, Through the Night explores the fate of these three characters to examine the way we broach these painfully named “grey zones” and the way in which sexual violence - far from being a straightforward traumatic event lasting only a moment - has a long-term effect and permanently changes the lives of victims and, to a lesser degree, those of attackers.
Through the Night is produced by Versus Production (Belgium) in co-production with Colonelle Films (Canada), Haut et Court (France) and The Reunion (Belgium). International sales are entrusted to Playtime.
(Translated from French)
Photogallery 05/09/2023: Venice 2023 - Through the Night
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