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.Follow @davefilmblog
13 thoughts on “The Girl with a Bracelet (2019)”
I wish to talk to you.. The girl with a bracelet article is a truly gud experience.
A passionate movie lover
Hi Hari, thanks for your kind comments. I’m glad you enjoyed the review.
The electronic bracelet is put on thr ankle of an accused during the trial under the impression that they are guilty. And in the last scene, where the bracelet is removed after she is pronounced “not guilty”, you see Lise removes her chain and wears it around her ankle for the fact that she truly knows that she is infact “guilty” of thr crime she’s been accused for.
This is just my interpretation of the last scene.
Thanks for commenting. I agree that bracelet could point towards her guilt. However, she could also have decided to keep it as a reminder of her friend, or even of the experience she’s gone through, much the way as some people tie bands around their wrist to be a reminder of people or events. So while I think it does imply the possibility of guilt, I like that it remains ambiguous.
I don t like the way the film leaves us with strong imprint of disappointment,confusion and longing to know the real murderer
If somebody has their throat cut, the murderer would be covered in blood, and there would be bloody footprints everywhere. A bit of a cop out!
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You make a good point! Although it wouldn’t be the first film to show unrealistically sanitised murders.
Dave, what exactly do you mean by “characters that avoid lazy stereotypes […] Lise’s parents are of north-African origin, but respectable and successful.” People from north Africa are stereotypically the opposite of that are they? If that isn’t what you are trying to imply, I’d recommend you pay closer attention to your phrasing.
Hi Katy. Thanks for reading my review. As for what I meant: in my experience characters originating from the Maghreb (and Arabic) regions of the world are rarely depicted positively in western films. and even less frequently as financially successful, middle class ‘respectable’ families. The depiction in The Girl with a Bracelet was refreshingly positive., I felt. I hope you agree.
I found it interesting that Lises’ brother was also left handed and had motive.
Good point, I hadn’t noticed that. Another subtle way the film keeps things uncertain.
The boy is the key to the truth.
He knows that she is guilty but as he was very young his understanding of the severity of the crime is limited. “We” put the knife in the hidden compartment. She has made him feel special by letting him in on a huge secret and they’ve become a team who will hide it ….. “Will I get Lise’s room if she goes to prison?” At first he mentioned nothing of the supposed trip to the ark…. Because there wasn’t one.
She slumped into her bike as soon as she thought no one was watching.
The older boy stated clearly that the feud between the girls continued and escalated. The murdered girl was scared of Lise.
I believe Lise to be a subtle sinister manipulator with no emotion. A psychopath. Only psychopaths can remain emotionally disconnected from such traumatic events.
In Lise mind, it was simple – the girls’ friendship ended with a devastating betrayal(in her mind, the ‘bitch’ shared revenge porn online, so to serve justice she killed her).
The only emotion we see from Lise was regret … self pity ….coz now that’s she’s killed her, Lise misses her friend.
Interesting thoughts, thanks Jemima. I like your thoughts on the role (and complicity?) of the boy.