“I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”
Many will recognise the cadence and application of these words, yet among the greatest human debates – following ‘why am I here?’ and ‘is there a god?’ – is the question of what is truth. As some have argued, truth is merely that which is perceived by each individual, thus allowing even conflicting stories and fantastic mythologies all to be ‘true’. There’s some philosophy for your morning coffee.
Nowhere does the truth debate shine more strongly than in the criminal courtroom. There, truth is on trial, even more than the accused.
Take, for instance, the murder trial of Amanda Knox. A British university student named Meredith Kercher was found dead in her room on 1 November 2007 and her flatmate Amanda stands accused. Beyond those two undeniable points, the story gets muddled, the facts conflict, and characters feature or fade depending on which version of truth is on the witness stand.
The intrigue surrounding the trial is perhaps more true than the murder case itself, and that is exactly what director Michael Winterbottom and writer Paul Viragh attempt to portray in their upcoming film The Face of an Angel.
Theirs is a true story.
The script follows the character of Thomas, a Hollywood film director trying to produce a film about the Amanda Knox trial. He begins with a book released by a Rome-based journalist who has been covering the trial. Here the viewer begins the ultra-meta journey of the director and writer themselves. The book and its author actually exist and they served as the starting point for this film script. Thus the viewers watch Thomas, embodying Michael, ‘the director’, watching the journalists, ‘the media’, watching the court case, ‘the instrument of truth and justice’, continuing on through a rabbit hole collection of perspectives – the boyfriend, the eerie landlord/blogger, the disengaged English art student, the family of the accused, the family of the victim, the slew of witnesses, the lawyers, the Hollywood production team, Thomas’ family in Los Angeles, and on and on.
Each presents a true angle. More importantly, each wants Thomas to select his own angle by which to approach the script and make it digestible to audiences seeking the truth. Thomas (Michael and Paul) struggles to reconcile that there may be many truths or none at all. His version of the trial story will be but another ‘true’ perception, a presentation with all the supporting frills and emotional appeal to make it marketable to the blockbuster world.
The Face of an Angel may be one of the most authentic (if one can use the term) trial portrayals: a critique on media and presentation and, I would argue, our understanding of truth itself, the film is a story of love and loss. It is not for everyone – a bit of a self-indulgent mindfuck – but nonetheless fascinating, beautifully made, and a reminder that the jury is still out on the truth question.