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Sunday, May 13, 2012

SIFF Sighting: 38 WITNESSES (Thriller, France)

In the spring of 1964, a young woman named Kitty Genovese was brutally raped and murdered in New York, just steps from her apartment. 38 people heard the attack; none acted quickly enough to save her life.

This true story became famous and ignited many psychological studies into group mentality (the theory was that most likely everyone who heard her screams figured someone else had already called the police).

Kitty's murder also inspired this film, 38 WITNESSES, a fictional version of the crime which takes place in France.

This spin on the situation focuses on the guilt of the witnesses rather than the loss of the girl.

At first, all claim not to have heard anything at the time of the attack, but then Pierre (Yvan Attal), who lives in the same complex, can't live with himself and comes forward to confess he heard it all. This causes the investigation to re-open and interview the 37 other witnesses as well. Of course, not all 37 were asleep during the crime.

Director Lucas Belvaux poses an interesting question in his exploration of the witnesses, that makes us ponder the aftermath of the real event. What happened to all of those people who heard Kitty die? Did they suffer remorse for their silence? Did they just go on as if nothing had happened? Or were their relationships, jobs and futures affected by the tragedy?

The acting and production value in this film is superb, though we would've probably felt more empathy with the characters had we spent some time with the victim. We as an audience don't get to learn about the life that is lost, which does provide a convenient detachment from the case.

But it's a good, solid film from an impressive director and cast.

38 WITNESSES will screen later this month at the 38th Annual Seattle International Film Festival. For tickets, visit the SIFF website.

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