Update – SFiFF 55 – The Best Film at the Festival (“Guilty”)

Now that the 55th San Francisco International Film Festival has come to close, I’ve taken some time to look back on the over 25 films I had a chance to screen and anoint the “Best of Festival” award. This one was easy…

If you’ve listened to any of our broadcasts on the Festival, you’ve heard us talk about this film. Based on the facts surrounding the most infamous miscarriage of justice in modern-day France, “Guilty” grabs you from the beginning and doesn’t let go – much like the French legal system.

A husband and wife – Alain and Edith Marecaux – are rustled out of bed early one morning and thrown in jail, accused of heinous crimes against children. Separated from each other and their children, the film tells the story from the husband’s point of view. This brilliant storytelling choice prohibits us from seeing anything that he doesn’t see – none of the legal wrangling outside of his lawyer’s visits, none of the wife’s legal situation, none of the children’s separation. We see only his experiences in prison, his communication with his lawyer, his end of phone conversations, his growing despair. We find ourselves just as much in the dark as he does. His frustration and anger and feelings of hopelessness become ours.

Philippe Torreton gives a tour-de-force performance in the lead role as the accused Alain. Torreton’s physical and emotional transformation is revelatory and deserved of any and all recognition he receives for this work. As the film is from his character’s point of view, he is on screen 100% of the time. Admirable support is given by Vladimir Yordanoff as his defense attorney.

The original title of this film was “Presume coupable,” which translates to “Presumed Guilty.” That happens to be the name of a Mexican documentary that played at last year’s Festival that told the story of an incredible miscarriage of justice in the Mexican judicial system. What little solace there is to be had in the knowledge that breakdowns in the criminal justice system are not unique to our own country. I take more comfort with the knowledge that there are filmmakers, both documentary and narrative, that are willing to expose it.

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