The Girl with a Bracelet, 2019.
Directed by Stéphane Demoustier.
Starring Melissa Guers, Roschdy Zem, Anaïs Demoustier, Annie Mercier, Chiara Mastroianni, Anne Paulicevich, Léo Moreau, Mikaël Halimi, Victoria Jadot and Paul Aïssaoui-Cuvelier.
A young woman stands trial for the murder of her best friend.
Courtroom dramas on the big screen are often no more realistic than outlandish sci-fi and magical fantasy. The striding, pantomime barristers and yells from the public gallery bear little resemblance to the quiet, largely dignified formality of an actual trial. It’s interesting then that director Stéphane Demoustier’s compelling, nuanced French drama The Girl with a Bracelet takes a more subdued, realistic approach to the way a murder trial might play out.
A remake of the Argentine drama The Accused, the film focuses almost entirely on the trial of teenager Lise (Melissa Guers). A pre-title sequence playing out in stark silence watches from a distance as she is arrested by cops while spending the day with her family on the beach. Two years later, she’s wearing an ankle tag – the bracelet of the title – and preparing for what we learn is a murder case related to the brutal killing of her best friend. Her emotionless demeanour in the dock seems to win her few fans, particularly in the wake of probing questions by a forensic prosecutor (Anaïs Demoustier, the director’s sister).
There’s little in the way of forced drama in The Girl With a Bracelet, which largely allows the inherent theatricality of the courtroom to take centre stage. Demoustier seldom leaves the confines of the proceedings and, when she does, you wish he was back there as that’s undoubtedly where the meat of the story lives. By concealing the crime from the audience until the trial, the intrigue lies in the way details are revealed by the barristers, rather than in the way skilled legal professionals twist facts the audience already knows.
Screen newcomer Guers is excellent in the lead role, coming across for most of the movie as someone who sees their trial as more of an irritating distraction than the life-defining event it is. Guers injects elements of apparently unguarded fragility and emotion, though, as if concerned about how every word and facial expression will be perceived by the all-important jury. It thus falls to Roschdy Zem and Chiara Mastroianni, as Lise’s parents, to carry the more overt emotions of the story, with the former in particular radiating the turmoil of a devoted father who, despite his faith, is troubled by his daughter’s reactions to the trial.
Rather than compressing information into a contrived, short time period, Demoustier allows the trial to unfold over a period of days and weeks, with new information arising on a daily basis. There are details which appear to cloud the picture of what initially seems a fairly straightforward case, with Demoustier’s script posing interesting questions about slut-shaming and the moral imperatives placed upon women that wouldn’t even be a discussion point if the gender of the defendant were different. This is portrayed as a generation gap issue, with the older people present struggling to grasp the differing morality of youth, framed as a crucial element of the case.
When The Girl With a Bracelet focuses on these knotty, complex themes, it’s at its compelling best. Demoustier does a stellar job of finding a thrilling energy in scenes of fairly routine cross-examination, wisely eschewing showy stylistic tricks for a stripped-down approach to telling this fairly well-worn courtroom tale. There are false steps occasionally and the ambiguous ending inevitably feels like a slight anti-climax in a genre that so often deals in heavy-handed, satisfying conclusions.
But the lack of an entirely concrete finale is entirely in keeping with what makes The Girl in a Bracelet so impressive. It feels like a statement of opposition to the wild excesses of the more conventional courtroom drama. Demoustier has proven that it’s possible to tell the story of a trial without any of the bells and whistles that usually characterise these movies. This is the intrinsic drama of the courtroom as it really is, told with restraint, nuance and an interesting perspective on how ingrained prejudices can impact the path of justice.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.