It’s strange how courtroom dramas have become a genre staple. Most trials are resolutely static and uncinematic, yet their movie equivalents are large, melodramatic, if wordy, quests for justice. The Girl With A Bracelet, directed by Stéphane Demoustier, is unusual because it avoids this drama, it’s measured and quiet and the central question of guilt remains elusive.
This is a French remake of a 2018 Argentinian film directed by Gonzalo Tobal called The Accused / Acusada about teenage girl Lise (Mélissa Guers) on trial for murdering her best friend. The motive: revenge for posting a sexually explicit video clip on social media.
Lise remains a blank to us throughout. This was Guers’s first film role and she plays her character with a quiet intensity, carrying her silences and giving little away. The film instead takes the perspective of her middle-class parents (Chiara Mastroianni and Roschdy Zem) as they anxiously ask themselves how well they really know their own daughter, the film’s central theme.
Despite the accused’s enigma, the film remains fascinating. The script was an adaptation and distillation of the original Argentinian script, but with a greater focus on the trial than the interludes at Lise’s home or outside; this is probably a good thing as the remaining external scenes tend to drag a little. The real focus is in the courtroom, and the deliberately flat cinematography and lack of music lend it a calm realism that at times seems almost like watching real court footage – the original film was actually based on a real life trial.
Demoustier’s muted tone is a pastel backdrop to a set of carefully nuanced characters that avoid lazy stereotypes. The accused and the defendant are upper-middle class, not working class. Lise’s parents are of north-African origin, but respectable and successful. And in a film about morality across generations, the slightly puritanical prosecutor (played by Demoustier’s sister) is the youngest court official in the room, and the motherly defence attorney is the most relaxed and frank about Lise’s promiscuity.
At heart, this is a morality tale that deliberately doesn’t moralise. The prosecution weaponises Lise’s promiscuous and frank behaviour, an institutional slut shaming with further revelations as the case develops, but the audience is left to form our own view. And it queries how society expect the innocent to behave. The film compares with Henri-Georges Clouzot’s La Verite, another French courtroom drama centred on moral character, not least because the guilty/innocent verdict depends on an appeal to the jury’s emotion and morality. In that classic movie we are invited to sympathise with Brigitte Bardot’s amoral character; by contrast The Girl with a Bracelet doesn’t take sides.
The film ends with the court verdict, of course, but nevertheless the script cleverly denies us a neat resolution. We don’t leave the cinema knowing that justice (or injustice) was served because, like Lise’s parents, we’re never sure Lise is truly guilty or not. The enigma remains. And it turns out it’s not just the viewer who’s left in the dark. When Guers asked Demoustier whether her character is guilty, the reply was that only she could decide, and she should never tell the director!
This understated drama asks us if we can ever truly know those we’re closest to. With an excellent ensemble cast, a well-crafted script and subtle direction, it leaves us with more questions than answers.
The Girl With A Bracelet will be available to stream in the UK from Friday 26th June 2020; I watched it at the 2019 London Film Festival.