Wednesday, March 07, 2012

French Rendezvous ’12: Guilty

It would become the French equivalent of the McMartin Preschool case, except arguably more tragic. Fourteen people were unjustly accused of participating in the notorious Outreau pedophile network, serving years behind bars awaiting their dubious day in court. One of them was Alain Marécaux, a former bailiff. Adapting his own memoirs for the screen, the former court officer tells his story in Vincent Garenq’s Guilty (trailer here), which screens as part of this year’s Rendezvous with French Cinema in New York.

As Guilty opens, Marécaux works hard at his writ serving practice, perhaps too hard to see as much of his family as he might like. Unfortunately, he is about to get an extended period of time off. When the cops arrive in the dead of night, he has no idea why. Eventually, it becomes clear Marécaux and his wife stand accused of participating in pedophilic orgies by the very same parents who sold their children to the ring.

The first two acts of Guilty are more Kafka than Grisham, as the case against Marécaux gets ever more lurid and incredible. It takes a physical and mental toll on the man, eventually rupturing his marriage and sowing emotional discord amongst his children. It is not until the third act that viewers finally see a proper courtroom, but it hardly redeems the French justice system when they do.

Guilty is a very well executed film, but it is not an easy watch. Indeed, it is genuinely harrowing to witness the injustices and humiliations meted out on Marécaux by the reckless prosecuting magistrate, Fabrice Burgaud, a villainous bureaucrat if ever there was one. As the screenwriter, he spares us nothing he endured (or so it feels). Fearlessly throwing himself into the role, Philippe Torreton portrays Marécaux’s disintegration in starkly intimate terms.

At least he had a good lawyer. In fact, Wladimir Yordanoff’s work as Hubert Delarue goes a long way towards cementing the film’s credibility. Rather than a crusading advocate, he comes across as a competent, relatively well-heeled attorney, who becomes increasingly aghast at the systematic injustice perpetrated throughout the Outreau case. On the flip side, Raphaël Ferret’s Burgaud is the personification of clammy weaselness.

Sure, wrongly accused docudramas are a dime a dozen and often play it rather fast and loose with the truth. However, Guilty withstands a reasonably earnest internet vetting and should hold viewers riveted throughout. Garenq keeps the outrage mounting exponentially, forcing the audience to confront the reality of Marécaux’s plight, up close and personal. It is often manipulative, but it works.

After preening across the world stage as one of Saddam Hussein’s erstwhile apologists, Jacques Chirac would personally apologize for the Outreau case, which he called a “judicial disaster.” Actually, apologies were what he did best. At any rate, Marécaux will get the final word with scores of readers and viewers through his memoirs and Garenq’s film. They certainly have a lot to say. Recommended for sophisticated true crime audiences, Guilty screens again tomorrow (3/8) at the IFC Center as part of 2012’s Rendezvous with French Cinema.