So Help Me God


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

So Help Me God
"A vivid illustration of just how close life can come to mockumentary when you start to scrutinise it." | Photo: Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival

The line between documentary and mockumentary has become so fine in recent years, with events in the halls of power across the globe often seeming more far-fetched than anything Armando Iannucci or Chris Morris could dream up, that you could be forgiven for not being quite sure what you're watching at the start of So Help Me God.

In fact, it might be considered as a vivid illustration of just how close life can come to mockumentary when you start to scrutinise it. The film was made by Jean Libon and Yves Hinant, the men behind popular satirical Belgian show Strip-tease, who "borrow the grammar of cinema" to present their factual endeavours. For the uninitiated, there are rules, including no prior writing, no commentary, no text on screen, no children and, perhaps slightly more oddly, a short poem at the end.

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The main driver of the action here is judge Anne Gruwez, who could easily have stepped out of a Sylvain Chomet film or an Agatha Christie novel, with her ever-changing statement earrings, recalcitrant baby blue 2CV car, pet rat and a decidedly gossipy approach to those who cross her path. This, coupled with an almost shockingly un-PC openness, make her a documentarian's dream.

Through the course of the film, they track her working the cold case of two murdered sex workers, having meetings with police and trying to get fresh evidence from previous suspects, including a recently deceased cop. Interspersed with this are the day-to-day workings of her job as she decides the judicial fate of everyone from an S&M sex worker to a thief who mugs people by the ATM machine.

"I swear the wrath of Allah is nothing compared to me," she tells one of them, cheerfully smiling her way through sentencing like a laughing assassin. Libon and Hinant aren't just on the look out for humour, although much of the gallows sort often associated with people who see the worst of mankind is present. They also nudge away at issues of societal prejudice - most of those crossing Gruwez's door would be considered to be from marginalised communities - and show that her job requires her to listen to distressing details as well as juicy ones.

The fly-on-the-wall approach is refreshingly warts-and-all, although it's worth remembering that the pair had worked before with Gruwez on an episode of Strip-tease and even with no preparation, the editing suite is also at the filmmakers' disposal. This is, perhaps, most evident in their decision to somewhat voyeuristically revel in the exhumation of the suspect's body. It seems more like a misguided attempt to generate dark laughs than to illuminate the workings of the judicial system. The truth through a lens is never quite naked.

Reviewed on: 29 Oct 2017
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The extraordinary, offbeat judge Anne Gruwez takes us behind the scenes of real life criminal investigations.

Director: Yves Hinant, Jean Libon

Writer: Yves Hinant, Jean Libon

Starring: Anne Gruwez

Year: 2017

Runtime: 89 minutes

Country: France, Belgium

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