Last Night's TV: An arresting story in any language

True Stories: A Small Town Murder, More 4; Horizon, BBC2

One argument in favour of the CCTV cameras that are sprouting like mushrooms across the nation is that, for all their limitations, they are more or less objective witnesses. Human beings, on the other hand, are terrible witnesses, as anybody who has ever been in a courtroom during a criminal case can testify: they forget things, they mix up names, they get events in the wrong order, they make stuff up to sound more plausible or sober, and they construct elaborate fantasies to cover up things that nobody cares about, let alone the things that genuinely matter.

A Small Town Murder was a brilliant but dispiriting lesson in human unreliability. Mosco Boucault's True Stories film followed the work of police detectives in Roubaix in France, up by the Belgian border, a town of terraced houses and alleyways, visibly part of the European north that Jonathan Meades was banging on about a few weeks ago. It started out more or less conventionally, trailing the cops around as they went from house to house asking questions about a series of crimes: somebody had been stabbed in a row with a neighbour, a girl had disappeared, and an empty house had been gutted by arsonists. But about a quarter of an hour in, the film was derailed. A woman, Stephanie, was on the phone asking for protection. She and her friend Annie had been assaulted the previous week, and now someone was breaking a window downstairs, and they were frightened. Next, the camera showed images of an elderly woman lying dead on her bed. Then Stephanie was there in the flesh, explaining to a detective that it was Annie who had murdered the old lady, who was called Micheline, and showing off the swag that Annie had brought back from her house, including cleaning materials and cat food.

This turn of events seemed abrupt and enigmatic. We had met Stephanie and Annie a few minutes earlier in screen time as witnesses in the arson case. They lived opposite and they'd named names, but everyone they'd mentioned had turned up a cast-iron alibi (one was clocked in at work, another was in court in Lille), and the police had heard rumours that Annie and Stephanie were involved. That must have been a few weeks earlier – Annie's hair, which she kept cropped short, had grown out considerably – but the time-scheme remained fuzzy. The hectic pace was accelerated by French police practices. None of your cautions – or indeed your caution – here, and no lawyers, suspects were set down in a room together and encouraged to hector and play the blame game, and police yelled and threatened (but they never retreated into bureaucratic jargon, and always remained human). The contradictions piled up like leaves on Vallombrosa.

Pretty soon, Annie abandoned her denials, and between the two of them, a story came out. They had gone into Micheline's house to steal money, had taken her TV, and had then gone upstairs to search for money. When Micheline woke up, they dosed her with the anti-psychotic medication they found in her cupboard, and when she was unconscious, they strangled her. Which, if either of them, was more guilty, was hard to say. Stephanie seemed to be in charge (because she was beautiful, and because Annie was in love with her), but maybe Annie had been the more reckless. At the police station, they nagged and contradicted, like a couple on the verge of divorce trying to get through an anecdote about their last holiday. Taken to Micheline's house to re-enact the killing, they became kinder, and readier to admit guilt; indeed, Annie couldn't stop admitting guilt, insisting that it wasn't spur of the moment, they'd planned it all, insisting even when Stephanie warned her they were headed for the guillotine.

So there it was: a crime, an investigation, a confession – all the features of a classic TV whodunit. But the skill in Boucault's film lay in the way it resisted the pull of conventional narrative, never allowing you to feel that this was a neat ending, and that anything had really been resolved. The police could stamp this case "Closed", but you could sense the mess of guilt and spoiled lives spreading out beyond the frames of the film.

We're terrible witnesses, too, because human memory is so unreliable, which is not to say that it isn't still a marvel. The last of the present series of Horizon looked at how memory works. It resides, it seems, in the hippocampi, two regions that perch inside the brain like a pair of headphones. The programme contained interesting insights and characters, such as John Forbes, whose hippocampi were damaged by premature birth; he can't remember a thing, and has to build his past from old photos (like Guy Pearce's character in Memento, who has clues to a murder tattooed on his body). It's not only the past that eludes him, so do thoughts of the future, which also sit in the hippocampi, apparently built from fragments of memory. But over 50 minutes, not a lot seemed to get said, and the science kept being crowded out by human interest. Surely Horizon used to be more challenging and stimulating than it is these days, but perhaps my memory's playing tricks.

Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Arts and Entertainment
John Kearns winner of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award with last years winners: Bridget Christie and Frank Skinner
comedyJohn Kearns becomes the first Free Fringe act to win the top prize
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Sue Vice
booksAcademic says we should not disregard books because they unexpectedly change genre
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Muscato performs as Michael Crawford in Stars in Their Eyes

TV
Arts and Entertainment
‘Game of Thrones’

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
    Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

    What is the appeal of Twitch?

    Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
    Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

    How bosses are making us work harder

    As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff