Dir: Stéphane Demoustier
18 year old Lise (Melissa Guers) stands accused of stabbing her friend to death. During her preparation for trial and the process itself, she has been living at home while under house arrest with an ankle monitor. As the trial goes on, her parents (Roschdy Zem and Chiara Mastroianni) hear things they never imagined about their daughter, but are they wrong in their belief that Lise is innocent of the charge against her?
It’s not difficult to see why the courtroom drama has been a reliable staple of cinema for so long. If anything has inherent drama then it is a trial. The battle lines are clear, the heroes and villains can, depending on our point of view, be clearly delineated but also can shift as the drama unfolds. The process also provides ample opportunity for actors to stretch their muscles, with tailor made spaces for grandstanding speeches about important issues. On the one hand, you might expect that getting away from some of these generic touchstones would prove refreshing. On the other, The Girl With a Bracelet often seems to set out to prove otherwise.
Following an articulate silent opening scene, which shows Lise calmly being arrested while at the beach with her family, Stéphane Demoustier’s film is all talk. This is partly mandated by the courtroom setting, but once the trial begins, the film holds us in that setting almost all the time. If the film is accurately representing the French court system (and it does seem to be), then it could perhaps do with being less faithful, because the setup itself, with the lawyers only muted presences next to an examining judge, seems to undercut the drama of the case.
Some courtroom films allow us glimpses of the various possible ways the case could have played out, given the various theories advanced, or at least show us one of the possible perspectives on the crime. The Girl With a Bracelet does neither, and so the entire film is all talk and no show. This is far less intriguing than Demoustier may have hoped, because the case itself, while lurid, is argued in such a stiff and frankly dull way that even the telling isn’t that interesting. It’s also fair to say that the ending is never in doubt, so even the drama of the verdict lacks punch.
Confined to the courtroom for long periods, the film feels static and stagy, and Demoustier has no tricks up his sleeve either to make things feel claustrophobic or to find interesting angles from which to shoot the proceedings. At times the whole thing is so visually flat it feels like Court TV. So little is said purely visually that with only very minor adjustments, this could be a radio play, and I’m not sure it would be any more entertaining then.
The performances aren’t bad. Melissa Guers has a distant detachment that could be read either as Lise being unable or unwilling to process what is happening to her or that she’s so cold she’s unaffected by it all. The problem is that either interpretation is defined by the same almost affectless performance. Likewise, Anaïs Demoustier (one of the most interesting actors in France and, coincidentally, the director’s sister) has little to work with as the prosecutor in the case. There’s conviction in her final speech to the court, but as a figure within the film she exists solely as a job title. The same, sadly, is true of Annie Mercier as Lise’s lawyer. There are a couple of flashes of interest in Roschdy Zem and Chiara Mastroianni’s performances in the very brief moments that their belief in their daughter’s innocence is undermined, but the film never indulges this for long enough to say anything interesting.
There is always potential in a courtroom drama but the disappointment of The Girl With a Bracelet isn’t so much that it misses that potential as it is that it consistently seems to try to avoid it.