“It’s your show I’m cancelling, not you,” remarks one character to another in The Accusation, encapsulating, intentionally or otherwise, the thorny politics at the heart of the film. That Yvan Attal’s seventh directorial feature exists in its present form — that is, in its analytical presentation of the moral and judicial arguments of a highly-publicised rape allegation — should come as little surprise; adapted from Karine Tuil’s Les choses humaines, penned in the aftermath of France’s reckoning with its unflattering legacy of sexual harassment and abuse, The Accusation espouses a keen social contemporaneity on the issue, speaking to a generation both empowered by the feminist fight for social justice and embittered by the inevitable backlash engendered as a consequence. Fresh off the #BalanceTonPorc movement that revealed and, in some cases, renewed public activism around the legal quagmire of consent, Attal’s thorough cross-section of French sexual politics may offer on paper the trenchancy befitting of its themes, although in practice its dialectical plea for moderation, no matter how noble its intentions, consigns the film’s ideological balancing-act to textbook exercise.
This exercise demarcates as its subject an evening between Alexandre Favel (Ben Attal, the director’s son), a Stanford scholar and by all accounts a model citizen, and Mila Wizman (Suzanne Jouannet), the daughter of his mother’s boyfriend and belonging to a lower social class than Alexandre. (Alexandre’s parents, though separated, are a power couple; his mother, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, is a radical feminist essayist while his father, a role undertaken by Pierre Arditi, prominently figures as a pundit.) The details of the evening are unclear, but what is known is that both individuals attended a party, had a few drinks each, and then went into an abandoned shed in the vicinity where Alexandre allegedly forced himself upon Mila, coercing her into performing fellatio despite the absence of clear consent — framed from the former’s perspective as the absence of clear resistance. Subsequently, Mila files a police report against Alexandre, setting into motion years of judicial and extrajudicial investigation that irreversibly alter the courses of their separate lives.
That Attal’s film chooses as its source text Tuil’s fictionalised narrative should already clue us in on The Accusation’s relative abstraction; the world that Gainsbourg and Arditi inhabit, for instance, resembles many an ossified stratum of capital, privilege, and opposing worldviews that exist in harmony precisely because of this capital. But one has further grounds for accusation: Attal makes little attempt to chart the aftermath of that fateful evening (which he frequently returns to, by way of frustratingly coy flashbacks) in terms of his characters’ subsequent evolution, opting instead for the safety of political talking-points that just about passes off, albeit clumsily, as thematic synthesis. As a result, one would find greater reward in viewing The Accusation as a litmus test for one’s sexual mores, and less in terms of empathizing organically with its stock individuals, a view especially ironic given the engineered stoicism and pathos on display by Alexandre and Mila respectively. The more charitable might attempt to tease out strands of criticism against bourgeois hypocrisy, exemplified in Alexandre’s parents and their vacillating stances, but all things considered, neither The Accusation’s intellectual nor its tonal drabness does it any favors. If anything, its raison d’etre remains unambitiously instructional, culminating in an extended court sequence deftly lensed with cinematographer Rémy Chevrin’s fluid long-takes, and relishing in the rote unambiguity of its “closing arguments,” dressed up in false nuance.
Published as part of Venice International Film Festival 2021 — Dispatch 1.