Moll finds menace in the mountains

Director on a new roll with awards nominated thriller The Night Of The 12th

by Richard Mowe

Good cop, bad cop: Bastien Bouillon, left, and Bouli Lanners in Dominik Moll’s The Night Of The 12th
Good cop, bad cop: Bastien Bouillon, left, and Bouli Lanners in Dominik Moll’s The Night Of The 12th Photo: Picturehouse Entertainment
As a man of two countries - Germany and France - you could be forgiven for thinking that director Dominik Moll who shot to prominence 22 years ago with the psychological shocker Harry He’s Here to Help, might harbour a split personality.

Not a bit of it - he seems remarkably grounded and feels much more French than German. At this precise moment he’s feeling rather pleased with himself that his most recent brooding investigative thriller The Night Of The 12th has been a runaway success in France and also has been selling well around the globe, and featured as part of Glasgow Film Festival.

Written in tandem with his frequent collaborator Gilles Marchand whom he met decades ago at film school in Paris, it deals with two tough detectives (a magnetic pairing of Bastien Bouillon and Bouli Lanners) who become desperate to solve an elusive and gruesome murder.

Based on Pauline Guéna’s novel, Moll and Marchand opted to focus one one section of the sprawling 500-page tome, which focuses on the killing of a teenage girl, Clara (Lula Cotton Frappe) whose body has been found scorched to death. Originally set in the Paris suburbs, Moll decided to transplant the action to Grenoble and a nearby community.

“It wasn’t that complicated to adapt because the structure already was there in the investigation of the murder with all those different suspects (men ranging from teens to 30s) who in their own way were representative of toxic masculinity. The way that one of the two main investigators Yohan (Bouillon, the younger of the two) becomes haunted by the case was also quite present. Even things that seemed very fictional, such as the guy appearing in the graveyard with a hidden camera or also the tee shirt with the blood on it, actually also really happened.

“The main challenge was to develop the characters and especially that of Yohan, combined with raising the subject of male violence against women without making it too theoretical or a feminist statement and more woven into the fiction.

The Night of The 12th director Dominik Moll: "A lot of my films are set in the mountains because they are photogenic and beautiful, but they can also be dark, oppressive and threatening.”
The Night of The 12th director Dominik Moll: "A lot of my films are set in the mountains because they are photogenic and beautiful, but they can also be dark, oppressive and threatening.” Photo: Phlippe Cuaissse/Unifrance
“The real crime didn’t get that much attention at the time. There were one or two newspaper articles - in any case I wanted the story to be a fiction and not a recreation of the horrible true events. The move of the action to the area around Grenoble helped to take it out of the original surroundings. A lot of my films are set in the mountains because they are photogenic and beautiful, but they can also be dark, oppressive and threatening. If you are down in the valley they stop you seeing further - and in a way that was an allegory for the police position: they couldn’t see any further or find a solution. They believed there was no way out.”

Bouillon who has worked on several occasion with Moll, was sitting listening attentively to the director during the interview and opined that he put his complete trust in the script and the director. “The script was very precise with a clear way forward. During the first rehearsal we tried to find a mutually common goal of where we wanted to go with it, and thereafter it was just a question of sticking to that. And Bouli Lanners was wonderful to work with, and I learned a lot from in the way of glances and body language.”

Lanners, a veteran Belgian actor, is also a director but knows better than to interfere in the process. Moll said: “When Bouli works on a film as an actor you never get the sense that he is a director. He believes it is complicated enough to make a film and that his role is to make thing as easy as possible for you as the director.”

Moll hardly dares to suggest that he is on some kind of a roll. His previous crime drama two years ago Only The Animals (Seules les bêtes), again set in the remote countryside and dealing with a woman’s mysterious disappearance, received enthusiastic reviews. “It was also a crime story and may be wasn’t as successful as Harry He’s Here to Help but it did really well and that hadn’t happened to me for some time.”

The Night Of The 12th has received 10 nominations in the French Oscars, the Césars, including best film and best director, only one less nomination that the front runner Louis Garrel’s The Innocent. All will be revealed at the glitzy ceremony in Paris on 24 February. It won the best film award last month at the Lumière Awards, bestowed by the foreign press working in France, and often viewed as an indicator for the Césars.

Moll has managed to squeeze in a family life and two children and lives in France. My father is German and my mother is French so I have both nationalities. I have lived in France now for so long that I do not feel at ease speaking German because it has become a bit rusty. I grew up in Germany before I liberated myself from my parents.”

He has been said to have assumed the mantle of the late thriller guru and sharp observer of the bourgeoisie Claude Chabrol. He admits to an admiration of Alfred Hitchcock and Patricia Highsmith.

“I appreciate most of Highsmith's books and her universe and the way she describes her characters. Actually I almost reread all her books while I was writing the screenplay for Harry. I did not try to steal anything from her, but I liked that atmosphere and that universe. And, of course, I love watching Hitchcock. Shadow Of A Doubt, The Birds, Marnie, Vertigo and Notorious are particular favourites. I take great pleasure in watching them. You feel his enjoyment in making each film as he tried to go further every time and try new things. That was a great attitude,” Moll concluded.

The Night Of The 12th will be released by Picturehouse exclusively in UK and Ireland cinemas on 23 March.

Richard Mowe interviewed Dominik Moll and Bastien Bouillon at the Unifrance Rendezvous-Vous with French Cinema in Paris last month.

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