Appealing a conviction for 2 murders he insists he didn’t commit — whereas candidly, even proudly, admitting to a number of armed theft costs — French activist turned legal Pierre Goldman refuses to name any witnesses in his protection. “I’m innocent because I’m innocent,” he says flatly, rejecting the concept that testaments to his character and conduct have something to do with it, and professing himself “disgusted” by courtroom pomp and theatricality. Except Goldman is aware of the ability of fiery rhetorical speechifying when it fits him: In “The Goldman Case,” Cédric Kahn’s formally restrained however finally electrifying dramatization of a trial that gripped and divided France in 1976, that canny inconsistency is however one surprising fold in a courtroom drama that finds equal intrigue in authorized order and human chaos.
Opening this 12 months’s Cannes Directors’ Fortnight program on an clever however accessibly mainstream be aware, Kahn’s movie follows Alice Diop’s current “Saint Omer” in providing a rigorous, documentary-inspired Gallic transforming of the authorized drama template. Yet its tackle the style is alternately extra austere — with the motion, following a short prologue in legal professionals’ chambers, by no means leaving the tense confines of the court docket — and extra rousingly conventional, sticking to a factual report that nonetheless permits momentary, Hollywood-style catharsis. Distributors might should depend on such conventions to promote the movie outdoors France, the place public consciousness of Goldman’s title and case is quite extra restricted — and now certain to be outlined, for whoever sees it, by Arieh Worthalter’s galvanizing, near-feral lead efficiency.
Drawing from up to date newspaper reporting and first-hand interviews with Goldman’s legal professionals, Kahn and Nathalie Hertberg’s script dispenses with a lot in the way in which of setup. Establishing chunks of onscreen textual content present the important information about Goldman’s 1974 conviction on 4 costs of armed theft (one among which noticed two girls killed) and subsequent sentencing to life imprisonment, however dramatically, the movie plunges straight into authorized preparations for his second trial with few niceties of character or milieu. Even the filmmaking — shorn of music, with Patrick Ghiringhelli’s boxy-framed cinematography working in tweedy browns and grays — is calculatedly subdued, not often wresting our consideration from the case at hand.
That we successfully be taught concerning the risky, preternaturally confident Goldman and his previous on the fly is suitable, given the surprises he retains springing on his exasperated authorized crew, led by dogged legal professional Georges Kiejman (a positive, flinty Arthur Harari, greatest often known as the director of 2021 Cannes hit “Onoda: 10,000 Nights in the Jungle”). In the very first scene, Goldman is current solely through his phrases, within the type of a withering letter to Kiejman that dismisses his companies on the grounds of his supposed political centrism and “armchair Jewishness” — solely to rescind the rejection in a subsequent message.
It’s an invisible introduction that tells us a lot concerning the recalcitrant whims and convictions of this radically left-wing mental: Raised by ardent Jewish Communists, he refused to participate within the May ’68 insurrection however as a substitute headed to Venezuela to hitch a guerrilla motion, earlier than returning to Paris to develop into a sort of gangster with a trigger. He’s a wealthy biopic topic, however Kahn and Hertzberg maintain again on their topic’s intense pressure of persona for a lot of the movie’s opening act — virtually to a fault, as unacquainted viewers may discover themselves adrift amid meticulous however considerably dry procedural trivialities.
Once Goldman’s blood is up within the courtroom, nevertheless, the drama accordingly kicks into excessive gear, because the trial extends past the query of his innocence — one on which the movie maintains a coolly impartial perspective — and towards a scathing inquiry into institutional corruption and injustice, with the police pressure coming in for specific censure. In scene after riveting scene, Kiejman stealthily questions the officers and civilian witnesses who claimed to have seen Goldman commit the murders — regardless of, in a single cop’s case, having initially ascribed a unique race to the perpetrator — dismantling their credibility and exposing their biases within the course of.
But there’s crackling pressure, too, between the goals of lawyer and shopper: One is merely attempting to reverse a conviction, the opposite to make an announcement, and the friction between Kiejman’s affected person, serpentine video games of technique and Goldman’s scorching, righteous bluster is not any much less pronounced than that between the protection crew and the senior, solely selectively by-the-book prosecutor Garaud (Nicolas Briançon). Kiejman’s makes an attempt to mollify Goldman’s extra incendiary disruptions of proceedings — as when he accuses the police of across-the-board racism, to cheers from his numerous crowd of supporters — are testily rebutted by the accused, whereas even the occasional juror will get an surprising voice on this most fractious and unruly of courtrooms.
As Goldman, the very good Worthalter — so usually a significant supporting participant, in such movies as Lukas Dhont’s “Girl” and the upcoming Virginie Efira car “All to Play For” — seizes the lead with suitably mercurial power. Turning on a dime from silently glowering brute to lucid, charismatic rabble-rouser, he performs riotously to the gallery when required, bellowing his beliefs with Valjean-like grandeur. It’s not laborious to see how he grew to become a glamorous hero of the novel left, with such celeb champions as Simone Signoret and Jean-Paul Sartre, but there stays one thing recessive and unknowable about him — a reluctance to disclose any human foibles which may distract from what he stands for. Kahn’s artful, compelling portrait provides Goldman the ground, however his partitions stay mounted round him.