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Anatomy of a Fall (A Movie Review)


Starring Sandra Hüller, Swann Arlaud, Milo Machado-Graner, Antoine Reinartz, Samuel Theis, Jehnny Beth, Saadia Bentaieb, Camille Rutherford, Anne Rotger, Sophie Fillières, Julien Comte, Pierre-François Garel, Savannah Rol, Ilies Kadri, Vincent Courcelle-Labrousse, Cécile Brunet-Ludet, Nesrine Slaoui, Antoine Bueno, Anne-Lise Heimburger and Messi the dog.

Screenplay by Justine Triet / Arthur Harari.

Directed by Justine Triet.

Distributed by Neon. 152 minutes. Rated R.

If you want to see the difference between America and France – both in judicial pursuits and also in simple filmmaking styles – all you have to do is watch Anatomy of a Fall.

Anatomy of a Fall is technically a courtroom drama, but it turns out that there is so much more to it than that. It tells the story of a couple who are living in a huge farmhouse in the French Alps, one that French husband Samuel (Samuel Theis) is trying to renovate and resell, but it is turning out to be much more expensive than he originally imagined.

His German wife Sandra (Sandra Hüller) had moved to his old hometown for the project, even though she knows few people there. Sandra is a relatively successful novelist. Samuel is also a writer, but he never has had his wife’s success. Their marriage has also been changed by the fact that their son Daniel (Milo Machado-Graner) had an accident while Samuel was supposed to be watching him, which has nearly completely ruined his eyesight. (He can see a bit but is essentially legally blind.)

In this tinderbox, one day Samuel falls out of the attic window and is killed. But did he commit suicide? Or did his wife murder him?

The legal system seems to be pretty certain that it is the second choice, particularly when it comes to light that Samuel has been secretly recording conversations with his wife – supposedly to gain material for a potential book – and those recordings include a few rather contentious arguments, at least one of which appears to have led to violence. Therefore, Sandra is forced to come to court and defend her life – literally.

Also drawn into the maelstrom is young Daniel, who has been witness to the animosity building in his parents’ marriage. He doesn’t want to believe that his mother could have done so horrific an act, at the same time he doesn’t want to believe that his father was suicidal. Therefore, he goes to court almost every day, reliving the horror and learning secrets about his parents’ strained marriage, which is shown throughout in flashbacks.

It's an intriguing story, and frankly one that is probably all too common. A bunch of basically good people getting into bad situations and taking it out on each other. No matter who is ultimately responsible, no one will come out unscathed. And no one can really know exactly what happens in anyone else’s home.

Watching the film as an American, even when the verdict comes down, you’re half expecting the other shoe to drop. And while Anatomy of a Fall does spend a good 10-20 minutes on exploring how the verdict affected the main characters, it does not throw in one last plot twist. Perhaps, just perhaps, the legal system could have actually gotten something right.

It’s not totally surprising that Anatomy of a Fall does not mimic the traditional legal thriller. Writer/director Justine Triet said that she was trying to emulate Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage rather than say… Witness for the Prosecution or Law & Order.

In doing so, she has made one of the most intriguing legal dramas in recent memory.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2023 All rights reserved. Posted: October 21, 2023.


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