|Philippe Torreton stars in Vincent Garenq's docudrama, GUILTY.|
This review has been provided by George Ghon, stylist, writer, editor and friend of the blog.
Early one morning in 2001, when it was still dark, the police came knocking on the door of Alain Marécaux, a successful bailiff. Without much explanation they searched the house, separated him from his wife and three children and put him in custody. What followed was a biased police interrogation; information embargo; and no contact with the world outside the prison walls - a nightmare trip for Mr Marécaux, who was accused of child molestation, a crime he always strictly denied committing. Asserting his innocence, and the conspicuous lack of hard evidence supporting the arrest, did not stop the legal machine from rolling in the wrong direction, in turn causing one of the biggest judicial errors in French history.
Director Vincent Garenq turned the true story, based on Alain Marécaux’ memoirs, into a docu-drama that stays close to the facts, but provides a subjective angle on the case, following the lead actor (Philippe Torreton) from start to end. Information is dispensed only scarcely, making the claustrophobic lack of it a viewing experience, too. Garenq puts us through the same process of indignation that Marécaux must have gone through at the time of his arrest. ‘I wanted to keep the anger that I felt when I read the book’ the director said during a Q&A session. He didn’t make an objective study of the Outreau affair that Marécaux was part of, but zoomed in on his take of it, and shows the disastrous implications that the judicial system can have on the citizen’s life when it steers off its correct path.
After going through several suicide attempts, a body wrecking hunger strike, and desperately appealing to the justice minister himself, Marécaux was eventually acquitted in 2004, but the case left a stain on a nation that prouds itself being built on the republican values liberté, égalité & fraternité. In 2006, a special parliamentary enquiry looked into the case, after president Jacques Chirac called the affair a ‘judicial disaster’, but the commission hardly acknowledged any erroneous behaviour within the judiciary corps. In 2009, finally, the Conseil Supérieur de la Magistrature issued a reprimand for the judge Burgaud, a minor penalty, which he, in turn, appealed. The case reveals how stubbornly one-directional the bureaucracy apparatus can work in so called advanced western democracies. Not one of all the magistrates involved in the case dared to reassess the initial judgement lacking any solid evidence in a fleeting spell of individual brain activity. Besides, it wasn’t only laziness or intellectual inertia that caused the magistrates to lose their objective eye.
Europe was shocked by the Dutroux case in Belgium, where girls got abducted, sexually abused in a dungeon, later drugged and eventually killed. The general policy, quite understandably, was to go hard on child molesters. Police officers, magistrates, psychologists, prosecutors and judges became biased, so much so that they evidently lost their sense of good judgement. All this shows the Janus-faced correlation between a moral codex, of what we deem to be right or wrong, and the judiciary system in a civil state, which is based on equal rights. The former is necessarily subjective and demands an individual assessment of the situation according to the values of the society we live in. The latter, however, needs to be unambiguously bound to the law. In other words, it requires the inhuman objectivity of a system that does not deem an individual guilty before proof of his wrongdoing has been found in order to safeguard the pole of humanity where the European flag is hoisted.
Garenq’s GUILTY is an eye opener for Europeans who tend to proud themselves for their moral superiority. It also staggeringly unveils how an all too human emotion that abhors child molestation can bias a supposedly fair legal framework and torques the objectivity of the law.
GUILTY opened in France in September and played Toronto and London. It was released earlier this year in France.