The Danish documentary entitled The Night We Fell directed by Cille Hannibal is a self-reflexive piece of work. Not only the genre itself but also the mother-child relationship is under scrutiny to bring some light into life after a loss of a beloved person.
Accepting someone’s death and going through the mourning process is never easy, and the coping mechanism differs from person to person. Nonetheless, one can turn to oft-repeated clichés and claims such as time and being constantly occupied will help. It might happen that loved ones show up and start making a film just for an excuse to be there. This is what Cille Hannibal did when she began filming her mother who lost her husband of many years. The camera travels between rural and urban areas, joy and sadness, freedom and suffocation. In other words, the soul takes the central role and, by presenting the mundane moments of life after someone’s death, Cille sketches up a painful journey. Despite seeing everything physical, neither the camera nor she is fully capable of depicting what her mum feels. When she is shown packing her husband’s books and photographs, as he was a talented and acclaimed photographer, one can only guess that her loss does not give her calmness. When she burst into tears or openly discuss her feelings, one can surely know she is in pain.
In a rather abstract way, the director is playing jigsaw, trying to find the pieces while painting herself on them as well. Even if she is not seen on screen all the time, Cille through her narration assures the viewers that her presence is an important element of the film. The making of a documentary with the participation of the film-maker is definitely not something to be considered new, but it must be always pointed out as it provides motivation why she is making this specific film. She clarifies her intention at the very beginning of the motion picture and also creates a framework by closing with thoughts on what the film has become. She also manages to reflect upon the universal issue of dealing with death; by doing so, she doesn’t give answers, though, she only shows one possible way. At the same time, her role behind and in front of the camera as well as the fact that the deceased person was a photographer, the documentary genre itself enters the conversation. Hannibal mentions some pieces of advice she received from her stepfather and incorporates them into her film. For instance, to remember him she shows an image he was absolutely against using in films.
The Night We Fell has a great pace, though sometimes requires a bit of patience to understand the scene shown. It doesn’t take up so much its viewers’ time as it ends after 44 minutes, but it lets us take a look behind the scene and see how a documentary film-maker finds her subject and thinks about the technicality of the job. The “we” written in the title has its significance, as it not only refers to Hannibal’s stepfather accident but also the consequences, meaning the devastating situation that the relatives end up suffering in – because they might fall as well…