Film Flashbacks example Chapter continued

Film Flashbacks (Part 2)

The flashback could be motivated compositionally (giving us essential story information), realistically (proceeding from a character’s memory), and intertextually…(Bordwell, Staiger and Thompson, 2002) p19

Anna Movie Poster Small
Anna (2019) by Luc Besson Movie Poster

Anna (2019) a film by Luc Besson. Anna Poliatova played by Sasha Luss is a highly trained Russian government assassin. Throughout the film the timeline is proliferated with flashbacks and flashbacks within flashbacks, each of which is essential to the scene and for the audiences understanding of the film’s progression. Each of the flashbacks revisiting memories from Anna’s past and expanding upon her characters background and with details essential to understanding through past events what is happening in the current timeline. Anna shares many similarities with recent films and television for example the narrative and style of Atomic Blonde (2017 ) and the TV series Killing Eve ( 2018 – ), the female protagonist with a Russian background recruited for espionage and assassination. Set in the near past before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the deconstruction of the Soviet Union and where the KGB is still the agency for espionage in Russia.

Anna Olga played by Helen Mirren
Anna’s handler Olga played by Helen Mirren modelled on Rosa Klebb

Anna is recruited into the KGB to retrieve information by the means of assassination at the direction of her handlers, that is Olga played by Helen Mirren who models this role on Rosa Klebb a character in From Russia with Love (1963) and Alex, who is also Anna’s Russian love interest and her recruiter to the KGB.

Film Flashbacks used to great effect

Luc Besson uses the flashbacks to great effect in the first flashback sequence Anna shoots her target then the scene fades to blackout followed by an inter-title saying 3 years earlier, informing the audience that what follows is a memory from 3 years ago. While in Anna’s memory 3 years earlier we cut to another flashback of a childhood memory where Anna is present at the instant of her parents’ deaths, killed in a head on collision with a lorry with Anna seated in the back of her parent’s car. This flashback sequence ends with a flash to white and the sound of a cameras flash, but we return not to the current timeline but remain within the flashback from 3 years earlier. Alex looks at his notebook and says “it says here that you like to play chess” we enter another flashback with a flash to white and the sound of the camera flash as we enter Anna’s memory of playing chess with her father in the park. Flash to white with the sound of camera flash to another inter-title saying 3 years later, out of the flashback sequences and returning to the current timeline.

Anna the market stall seller
Anna’s assumes the role of a market seller to attract the attention of the fashion agency scout.

This lengthy flashback with flashbacks contained within it provides the origins of the main character and the audience now understands how a market stall seller in Russia finds her way to Paris to a modelling job in the Paris fashion industry and then through that role is then able to assume the role of International assassin and assassinate her target. The use of inter-titles at the beginning and the end of the sequence clearly indicates where in the past the memory and the flashback occur.

Flashbacks: For instance, there are several cues for a flashback in a classical Hollywood film: pensive character attitude, close-up of face, slow dissolve, voice-over narration, sonic ‘flashback,’ music. In any given case, several of these will be used together. (Bordwell, Staiger and Thompson, 2002)

The flashbacks contained within the main flashback sequence are preceded and terminated by a flash to white with the accompanying sound, similar to that of a cameras flash. I am uncertain as to the value of the childhood memories being inserted into the flashback sequences other than to show that Anna is an orphan and that as a very young child, she showed high levels of intelligence beyond her natural years by playing chess, but then maybe that was the point? Flashbacks seem to provide the details that are missing in the current timelines to keep the flow of the film but are in fact key to explaining/understanding the narrative underlying the current sequence.

Technical Specs Anna (2019) IMDB

Runtime 1 hr 59 min (119 min)
Sound Mix Dolby Digital
Color Color
Aspect Ratio 2.35 : 1
Camera Leitz M 0.8 lenses
Leitz SUMMICRON-C lenses
Printed Film Format Digital (Digital Cinema Package DCP)


  • Bordwell, D., Staiger, J. and Thompson, K. (2002) The classical Hollywood Cinema Film Style & Mode of Production to 1960.
  • Anna (2019) – Technical Specifications – IMDb (2019). Available at: (Accessed: 9 March 2020).

Links to more articles