”Anatomy of Death from a Fall,” the Palme d’Or winner at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, is like a juggler tossing three balls at the same time, dazzling in terms of narrative execution. It is both a strong plot thriller about an unsolved case and a family film about a broken marriage. In terms of scene presentation, it is also a legal drama in which all dramatic conflicts occur in the courtroom. Director Justine Trier is indispensable for being able to accomplish these three missions at the same time. The Cannes jury awarded her the grand prize undoubtedly in recognition of these visible advantages.
Beneath the surface text, “Analysis of Death by Falling from a Building” (hereinafter referred to as “Falling from a Building”) also hides some more complex and even theoretical intellectual topics. How can we distinguish between truth and falsehood when we cannot grasp the whole story? When truth and narrative come into conflict, can we persist in our pursuit of the former, or will we be conquered by the emotional power of the latter? From “Battle of Solferreno” to “Sibyl”, director Trier has been obsessed with exploring the complex relationship between text and reality. However, in “Falling”, which seems to be a straightforward commercial genre film, she has pushed her reflection on “narration” to the extreme.
A well-known bisexual female writer who is stuck in the quagmire of an unhappy marriage is seizing a rare opportunity to be interviewed by a girl from the literature department, and flirting with her ambiguously while drinking. But loud music was playing upstairs at this moment: her husband – a man who had just quit his job as a university professor and tried to write full-time like his wife – was aware of his wife’s schedule and deliberately did not want his wife’s (interviews and flirtations) ) plan succeeded. The interview had to be interrupted, and the girl and the son of the family left one after another to avoid the embarrassing and noisy situation. When the visually impaired son came home from a walk, the guide dog that led him first discovered the shocking fact: the music was still playing, the sun was still shining in the Alpine sky, but the child’s father had blood all over his head. He fell into the snow and died.
Was it suicide, accident or homicide? The medical examiner could not find sufficient evidence to prove or rule out any of these possibilities, so the only person present at the time of the incident, the deceased’s wife Sandra, was accused of being a suspect and had to be investigated. In the next two hours of this film, we have to work with the judge, lawyers, jury and son Daniel who was unable to witness the scene to find the truth through our own eyes and clues provided by all parties. In this process, the relationship between Sandra and her husband Samuel will be cut into pieces and dismantled by a cold scalpel like the latter’s corpse, and will face the most severe inspection.
From the overall setting, we can see the organizational structure of the entire film. This is an intricate network intertwined by various relationships. Everyone is trying to determine their position in the relationship with others, but they are often lost in the flow and change of relationships.
The most eye-catching among them is naturally the relationship between Sandra and Samuel. Through the few words and fragments of evidence in the court, we can piece together some aspects of this relationship before Samuel’s death: it was due to the uneven shouldering of family responsibilities between the two parties, the imbalance in the sense of worldly success, and the social and cultural differences between the two parties. Differences in background, different emotional appeals, and fundamental differences in personality and attitude towards life, gradually fell apart. We seem to be watching another “Marriage Story” or “The Kramers”. Neither party has made an unforgivable mistake. Everyone has their own reasons and difficulties. Even so, the two people who still love each other will still move forward. Resent and hurt each other.
But beneath the surface, the film also constructs a more subtle relationship: that between the audience and its heroine. The legal drama format, which occupies most of the film, firmly places the audience in the position of the jury in the court. Through the guidance of facts, reasoning and emotions, we pour empathy into one of the prosecution and defense parties. And together they share the same hatred against the other party. As the truth continues to be revealed and lies continue to be exposed, our trust relationship with all parties is also undergoing subtle adjustments: at first, we will instinctively resent the inference of Sandra’s guilt and the prosecutor’s lawyer who questioned her; As the trial progresses, we discover that Sandra is not as honest as we first thought. As a result, the emotional balance shifts slightly: every word Sandra says from now on will be more questioned in our hearts. At the same time, every difficulty issued by the prosecutor, even including the various questions they raised before, It also makes more sense in our hindsight. The strategic game between the prosecution and the defense in the film is certainly exciting, but the psychological game between the director and the audience, based on the latter’s emotional identification with the heroine, is closer to the focus of the entire film and allows the film to retain suspense. The secret to keeping it until the very last moment—and even until after the film is over.
At its true heart, the film sets up ambiguous and complex relationships between texts of different textures. The entire film adopts a realistic audio-visual and narrative strategy, but whenever the prosecution and defense raise speculations and memories that cannot be verified by facts during the trial, the camera will start from the perspective of son Daniel sitting in the auditorium. It presents a “psychological image” with a highly subjective fantasy color. Sometimes it is a picture of the father committing suicide, and sometimes it is a picture of the mother punching the father in a rage. As these images accumulate, they finally become “reality” near the end of the film: Danielle testifies in person, reciting a suicidal monologue from his father’s lifetime on the witness stand. However, the father’s voice never appears in the flashback sequence shot by the director, and the son’s narration also adds a bit of ambiguity that is indistinguishable from truth to falsehood because of this carefully placed misplaced detail. We can’t help but wonder: Is this monologue his son’s true memory, or is it a narrative he made up to the judge in order to save a family that is at risk of complete collapse?
The film doesn’t tell us the answer until the end. But the truth may not be very important. The judge was obviously emotionally moved by Daniel’s words, and the situation was reversed. Sandra was acquitted, and Daniel also re-accepted this mother whom he might not trust, but loved enough. The most intriguing aspect of “Falling” is precisely related to its complex emotions towards “narration” itself: on the one hand, it retains ontological doubts about all narratives, but on the other hand, it unconditionally believes The emotional animal nature of human beings, thereby believing in the infinite power of narrative itself.
Reflection on “narration” confirms the significance of this film being able to exist independently from similar marriage stories; as for the truth of the entire case, it may only be in the mind of the border collie guide dog who does not understand the language but has insight into everything.