Review: Until We Fall
by Vladan Petkovic
- Samanou Acheche Sahlstrøm's second feature is a nuanced, delicate and difficult film that deals with one of the most painful subjects: the loss of a child
French-born, Danish-based filmmaker Samanou Acheche Sahlstrøm scored a critical hit with his debut, In Your Arms [+see also:
interview: Samanou Acheche Sahlstrøm
film profile], which triumphed at Göteborg in 2015. In it, he dealt with a delicate subject – assisted suicide – and in his sophomore feature, Until We Fall [+see also:
interview: Samanou Acheche Sahlstrøm
film profile], which has just world-premiered in Tallinn Black Nights' Official Selection, he opts to spotlight another painful issue: the loss of a child.
Adam (Dar Salim, from Darkland [+see also:
film profile]) and Louise (Lisa Carlehed, returning after her debut in In Your Arms) are a forty-something married couple whose son Lucas went missing a couple of years ago while they were on holiday in their house in Tenerife. He was ten at the time. His body was never found, and the police closed the case, concluding that it was an accidental drowning.
As the film begins, Adam and Louise are returning to the house, and we see how they are trying to cope with the tragedy in different ways. In the most general terms, it looks like Louise has accepted the loss and wants them to get on with their life, while Adam still refuses to believe that Lucas is gone – or at least he craves closure. Of course, things are much more nuanced and complicated than that, and the closeness between the two see-saws throughout the film.
The house belonged to Louise's parents, and now she wants to sell it, but Adam’s attitude is not making this easy. In an incredibly painful and darkly funny scene, he lashes out at a German couple who were on the verge of buying the place and basically sends them packing.
Adam goes to police chief Perez (Francesc Garrido) to look for more clues and revisit the questions he has already asked a thousand times. In another very uncomfortable scene, he grills a bunch of teenagers on the beach about whether they remember any details from the day his son went missing. Meanwhile, Louise strikes up an unlikely connection with Emilio, one of these teenagers, who lives across the street.
This plot description hardly does justice to the numerous discreet details that Sahlstrøm throws at the audience. On one hand, we have the main theme of grief and fear that the couple is going through – they feel they will never be happy again together but are too afraid to risk breaking up and being alone. On the other hand, there might be more of a mystery behind Lucas' disappearance, and we cannot be sure if Adam's reasons for wanting to investigate further are just in his head. Sahlstrøm gives us absolutely no answers, and not even any simple questions, and the whole story rests on foundations that shift with every little clue that we (imagine we) have spotted.
Stylistically, Until We Fall is reminiscent of the early films of Lars von Trier: the camera of DoP Brian Curt Petersen (who also lensed In Your Arms) is always handheld, sometimes shakily drifting around the characters or almost clumsily zooming into detail shots that help us form questions about their inner states, rather than revealing them. The colour palette leans toward the yellowish, and in the couple of beach scenes, we get to see more sand than sea – another hint of the shifting foundations. Editor Theis Schmidt (The Nile Hilton Incident [+see also:
interview: Tarik Saleh
film profile], In Your Arms) combines the often-subtle jump cuts with several flashbacks that are so seamless that they reinforce the viewer's feeling that nothing in this story is as it seems.
Until We Fall is both a tough and a delicate film, narratively ambiguous but tonally consistent. Besides Sahlstrøm's undeniable directing talent, the full dedication and creativity of leads Salim and Carlehed is what makes this difficult approach really work effectively.
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