Thoughts on So Help Me God (Ni jouge, ni soumise 2017)

Editor’s note: This piece is part of a series on the 2018 Taipei Film Festival.

So Help Me God (Ni juge, ni soumise 2017) is a fly-on-the-wall documentary that follows Belgian examining magistrate (preliminary judge) Anne Gruwez as she works a cold case while dealing with her everyday “clientele,” as she calls them: the newly arrested who Gruwez must book within 24 hours or set free. I’ve discussed documentary form previously, and nothing here makes me reconsider my position. So I’ll just make some observations on the content.

Gruwez first strikes us as eccentric, insouciant, irreverent, even callous as she discusses the cold case concerning two murdered sex workers with a (female) assistant, but we soon realize that her frequent jokes and double entendres are simply gallows humor, a defense mechanism against the sociopathic horror she deals with every day, including drunk recidivists, wannabe jihadists (“I will go to Syria!”), and the occasional paranoid-schizophrenic. After all, no narcissist (which insouciant humor often suggests) could keep a paranoid-schizophrenic infanticide calm enough to take a lengthy statement, at one point even preventing an episode by anchoring the suspect with her physical presence. The phalanges inexplicably missing from her four righthand fingers hint as well at a possibly storied past. Moreover, Gruwez often decides whether to formally arrest someone by their “profile,” as she calls it, and while this might strike some of us as blatantly biased (all of those whom she judges in the film are of Arabic descent), it’s in fact grounded in her many years of experience; we get a feel for this when she refuses to warn-and-release one of the suspects, and he turns out to be the aforementioned wannabe jihadist. His behavior does strike us as quite different from previous suspects’.

The film pointedly tries to shock its audience by, among other things, daring to keep rolling as a corpse is exhumed and body parts are cut off for DNA sampling. But the most shocking facet for me is the fact that, though the cold case seems like a straightforward application of new technology to old evidence, the actual filming took three years. Imagine how long things would take if Gruwez went by the book every single time.

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