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Moment of Truth [Lea Pfandler, USA, 2022]

A melancholic and muted jazz trumpet purrs over sumptuous piano lines and sauntering double bass, as we fade into a monochrome image of a cross-shaped tombstone and a woman standing before it. An onscreen inscription reads: “Throw me to the wolves and I’ll return leading the pack.” This summation of image and sound effectively guides us to noir territory and tells us exactly where our faculties need to be. The close-up of the unnamed protagonist’s face, as she stands in the cemetery, seamlessly dissolves into an image of her face on a photograph, clutched purposefully by a shady looking man sat nursing whisky at a bar. The woman’s voiceover coolly brings us up to speed.

It is a classic film noir opening that recalls esteemed exemplars such as Mildred Pierce [Michael Curtiz, USA, 1945] or Sunset Blvd. [Billy Wilder, USA, 1950], anchoring our expectations from the get-go. The voiceover tells us that her sister’s husband fell into a dangerous cult that are responsible for her killing. Now the cult is after her. The woman is stalked through the city, shot in stark black and white, and bathed in murky mist and smoke. Seeking out the help of a detective, they plot to uncover evidence of the killing by catching the killer in the act, using her as bait. With the inevitable conclusive twist comes a transition from black and white into colour, a neat aesthetic flourish to round out the darkly playful screenplay.

Moment of Truth is a simple and effective idea, with just the right amount of visual and narrative trickery to keep the viewer tantalised. A good amount of attention is paid to costume and production design to provide a sense of tone, time, and place. Pfandler’s film observes the Red Riding Hood arc faithfully and logically, with its feminist designs worn gleefully on its sleeve.


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