Anatomy of a Fall

Writer Sandra Voyter (Sandra Hüller, "Toni Erdmann") must cut short the interview she’s been enjoying with Zoé Solidor (Camille Rutherford, "Blue Is the Warmest Color") when her husband, who is insulating the attic upstairs, turns up the volume of Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band’s cover of 50 Cent’s ‘P.I.M.P.’ to deafening levels.  As Zoé drives away, she notices the couple’s vision impaired eleven year-old Daniel (Milo Machado Graner) taking his dog Snoop (Messi) out for a walk.  When Daniel returns, he’ll find his dad lying dead in front of their alpine chalet, a head wound staining the snow red, and suspicion turns toward Sandra in “Anatomy of a Fall.”

Laura's Review: A-

Cowriter (with Arthur Harari, "Onoda: 10,000 Nights in the Jungle")/director Justine Triet ("Sibyl") uses the premise of a court trial for murder to reveal the fault lines within a marriage which have widened after a young son’s accident. As in “Saint Omer,” the inquisitorial process of the French court system proves a revelatory means to exploring human behavior and character, especially given that the accused is from a different culture, in this case a German citizen.  While Sandra’s point of view is predominant, the perspective will switch to Daniel’s in the film’s final reels, her investigative handicaps language and public perception while his are sight and unknown information. 

Triet creates tension from her first image, that of a ball bouncing down the stairs, where it will be retrieved by Snoop, the dog who in many ways represents the deceased, Samuel Maleski (Samuel Theis), most movingly in the film’s very last scene.  Sandra is clearly enjoying her conversation with Zoé, her questions of her interviewer and the wine flowing in the afternoon suggesting seduction (something the dogged general counsel (Antoine Reinartz, "120 BPM") will bring up later, along with words from her fictional novels).  She’s strangely unruffled by the jarring calypso music, still smiling as she suggests they pick up the interview later, off site, but the woman who later responds to her son’s panicked screams is markedly distraught upon finding her husband dead in the snow.

Enter lawyer Vincent Renzi (Swann Arlaud, "By the Grace of God"), a friend who once was clearly more, to take Sandra through the house, speculating what may have happened in preparation for the trial soon to come.  Although he appears to believe his client, he doesn’t seem to think the crime scene supports accidental falling out of a window.  Soon forensic experts are gathered outside, throwing dummies out the window and measuring blood splatter.

As Sandra testifies, we will learn that Sam had been guilt stricken when their son suffered optic nerve damage when hit by a motorcycle after Sam had been late to pick him up.  Resulting medical bills caused financial strain and it was he that suggested they move from London to his home town in the French Alps.  Further tension was introduced when his writing career stalled while Sandra’s took off and the entire trial is upended when it is discovered that in hopes of fueling inspiration, Sam had been recording conversations, one of them a ferocious fight between himself and Sandra that ended in physical violence the day before he died.

This is the one time Triet resorts to flashback (later Daniel will recall a conversation with his father, but it is a recollection) and the scene is brilliantly written, Sandra Hüller building to a fearsome emotional pitch, Triet cutting back to the courtroom when the violence begins, leaving it to us to picture.  Sandra also reports an incident that is cast into doubt because of her timing in reporting it, but it is enough to make Daniel begin to question some things, and he asks to testify, his mother banished from the home for the evening prior (Marge Berger (Jehnny Beth) is assigned by the court to live with the two to ensure Sandra does not influence her son’s testimony, something which accentuates Daniel’s closer relationship with his father).

Production designer Emmanuelle Duplay ("120 BPM") makes a character of the chalet, separate familial spaces all defined at different levels, the kitchen’s common space disrupted by a center island.  Triet stages Daniel’s initial testimony brilliantly, cinematographer Simon Beaufils’ ("My Donkey, My Lover & I") camera staying on the boy, yet circling around him in tandem with the various voices addressing him, giving us the sensation of what Daniel is experiencing.  There is even room for some humor to be found in the facial expressions of the court’s tribunal president (Anne Rotger) or a judge’s (Saadia Bentaïeb, "Ghost Tropic") comment that the version of ‘P.I.M.P.’ Samuel was blasting was instrumental (just try to get that music out of your head after seeing this).  There is one quibble with the film’s last act, an action taken which seems out of character but moves the plot to its conclusion.

Triet’s decision to never actually show us what really happened to Samuel has resulted in comments about ambiguity, but the Cannes Palme d’Or winner is so precise in its dissection of marital behavior, this viewer, at least, is convinced that the eventual outcome is the correct one. 

Robin's Review: B+

Samuel (Samuel Theis) is found dead by his vision impaired 11-year old son, Daniel (Milo Machado Graner), of blunt trauma. Is his death simply an accident or is there something more sinister going on? The latter may be the case when his wife, Sandra (Sandra Huller), is indicted for murder in “Anatomy of a Fall.”

Director Justine Triet co-wrote the screenplay, with Arthur Harari, and tells the story of the death of husband and father, Samuel, under suspicious circumstances. Did he slip and fall from the third floor of the family chalet he is renovating or was he pushed? This sets the stage for the courtroom drama as Sandra is indicted for the murder of her husband. Suddenly, young Daniel has lost his father and had his mother arrested and taken way – and he must testify.

Sandra’s guilt or innocence will be decided on this testimony, to the crime/death, by her sight-impaired son. This testimony provides the tensions, along with a damning recording of the couple arguing, of the film as the evidence of Sandra’s guilt is laid out by the prosecution – countered by her defense attorney and friend, Vincent (Swann Arlaud).

As the story and courtroom drama moves along, we get to see the tiny family, and their beloved sheepdog Snoop, in flashback. We learn that, in the couple, Sandra is the more talented writer and breadwinner, creating more insecurity in her insecure husband. This is displayed in a scene where Samuel gives an extended “woe is me´ soliloquy, blaming his wife for his lack of literary success, even accusing her of plagiarism. This made me wonder if it really was an accident – a good thing in a “whodunit.”

“Anatomy of a Fall” is, in part, a French courtroom procedural that gives a look at the inner workings of the “system” – as any good procedural will do. My only problem with “Anatomy of a Fall” is, at two hours and 32 minutes, it is just too darn long. The result is a film that could have been leaner and tauter if judicially edited. For some reason, it does not feel like a "Martin Scorsese Film" to me. As it is, it is a good film that draws the viewer in.

Neon released "Anatomy of a Fall" in NY and LA on 10/13/23.  It expands into additional theaters on 10/27/23.