It’s an unremarkable scene. A family on the beach in the sunshine. But two police officers change all that. They take away one of them, a teenage girl. We can’t hear what’s said, we’re not close enough to see anybody’s expression and we have no idea why the girl has been lead away. All of which sets the tone and the style for Stephane Demoustier’s courtroom drama, The Girl With A Bracelet, a film where the audience is an additional yet invisible member of the jury.
The action takes place two years later with the now 18 year old Lise (Melissa Guers) wearing an ankle tag (the bracelet of the title is no fashion accessory) and on trial for the murder of her best friend, Flora. As defence and prosecution go head to head, Lise proves a problematic defendant – enigmatic, aloof, disconcertingly cool and often silent. Details of her personal life, brought to life with video footage, cast a large question mark over her character and distress her parents. But such behaviour doesn’t necessarily make her a killer.
In what could easily have been a critical examination of the French legal system, Demoustier takes us down some different paths. Judging from this experience, France’s courts seem to work in an effectively impartial way: indeed, the probing and perceptive questions of the judge inspire confidence. Instead, the audience finds itself presented with the facts of the case, as seen from both sides, and having to make up its mind as to her innocence or otherwise. Anybody who’s done jury service will know how difficult that can be and how tempting it is to form opinions and assumptions that can potentially influence the final decision. It adds to the fascination of the film, making the inevitable question surrounding the verdict even more personal.
The other side of the story merges how society views young women with the relationship between Lise and her parents (Roschdy Zem and Chiara Mastroanni), who discover that the teenager they thought they knew so well is close to being a complete stranger. It’s a particularly painful home truth for her mother, who is largely absent and continues working for most of the trial, leaving it to the father to be in court every day to support their daughter and hear at first hand about her sexual history. The question behind it all is as probing as one of those from the judge. How well do we genuinely know our own children? It is, after all, a precariously fine line between being caring and over-protective.
Both make for interesting premises, if perhaps weaker larger issues such as the legal system and the nature of justice. But the way in which they are presented, and the efforts of the cast, lift the film out of the ordinary. Guers is especially commanding as the enigmatic Lise, a troubling presence in the dock who secretly entertains boyfriends at home, fully aware that it’s not allowed. The trial scenes, which form the bulk of the film, are shot with restraint and a complete lack of soundtrack. Those edgy violins of Carla Pallone’s score are reserved for the moments away from the sterile courtroom and create a prickling atmosphere of tension and expectation.
Drama, Thriller | Cert: tbc | Curzon Artificial Eye | Curzon Home Cinema, 26 June 2020 | Dir. Stephane Demoustier | Chiara Mastroanni, Roschdy Zem, Melissa Guers, Anais Demoustier, Annie Mercier.