Through The Night


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Through The Night
"It’s not the first time a film has scrutinised what it means to be “a good victim” but Girard’s general restraint, coupled with a controlled central performance from Alaoui bring it home."

It’s late at night on the road and the breathing is too ragged for this to be a normal car journey for the man and the woman in the front seats. Aly (Selma Alaoui) is the passenger, on the phone, and we soon realise she’s not chatting to her sister, as the driver Dary (Guillaume Duhesme) thinks, but to an emergency call centre. At the other end of the line is Anna (Veerle Baetens), who quickly works out this is a call for help. Using this springboard, which was also crucial to Delphine Girard’s Oscar-nominated short film Sister, the first-time feature director allows her film to split into a triple portrait of each of these characters in the aftermath of the event, to see what happens, not just in the days after but the weeks and months after that.

This is not about the moment of the rape - Girard deliberately picks up the story afterwards, although we see what leads up to it in flashback, and avoids any voyeurism that might be associated with it. Nor is it about a question of whether it happened or not. The only ambiguity is in the mind of Dary and those who know him. Instead this is about the lasting effects as the wheels of justice turn with tortoise-like slowness.

It’s not the first time a film has scrutinised what it means to be “a good victim” but Girard’s general restraint, coupled with a controlled central performance from Alaoui bring it home. Aly is a capable single mum with an outgoing nature who doesn’t see how the law can really help her in terms of her trauma. We soon learn, however, that, so far as “justice” goes, her view is essentially irrelevant. Girard shows how Aly is buffeted by microaggressions. She may not be dragged over the coals for not returning to the hospital for a follow up exam after the rape but there’s no doubting she’s being judged for it on some level. Her suggestion that she doesn’t want to press charges is also immediately dismissed and she’s reminded that she needs to do this for other potential future victims. This is just one indication of the way that, although it is Aly who has lived through the trauma, the emphasis seems always to be elsewhere.

Girard dips in and out of Aly’s story as the months go forward. In the second strand of her film we see what happens to Dary next. If Aly is not a good victim, it might be said he isn’t “a good bad guy” either. He’s a fireman for a start and leading what might be described as a pretty normal life although there’s a hint of having been indulged by his mother (Anne Dorval in what initially seems a small role but which comes to pack a punch). His attempts to “move on” also go remarkably smoothly, with his new girlfriend dismissing the rape case as something that happens all the time - a casual stinging indictment on modern attitudes.

The third part of this triptych is Anna, who can’t shake off her connection to Aly and, although her story may seem a little spurious at first, as the film progresses, she comes to stand in solidarity with her in more ways than one, a smaller role but given weight by the nuanced performance from Baetens. On the whole, Girard’s film strikes an impressive balance, not just between her characters but in terms of the story. While she never makes light of the impact of what has happened to Aly, she doesn’t depict her as a broken victim either, showing how important the domestic support of her sister Lulu (Adèle Wismes) is in terms of helping her get through the tougher moments. The word “acceptance” is bandied about a lot when it comes to victims, often told they have to accept what has happened or accept what amounts to justice. Geraud reminds us there’s another, much more crucial form of acceptance - that of a perpetrator acknowledging their guilt.

Reviewed on: 23 Sep 2023
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The lives of three people are explored after a rape.

Director: Delphine Girard

Writer: Delphine Girard

Starring: Selma Alaoui, Guillaume Duhesme, Veerle Baetens, Anne Dorval, Adèle Wismes

Year: 2023

Runtime: 108 minutes

Country: France


Venice 2023
SSFF 2023

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