|Sandra Hüller, Swann Arlaud, Milo Machado-Graner, Antoine Reinartz, Samuel Theis, Jehnny Beth
|January 25, 2024
I’ve never been called up for jury duty but if I had, I can imagine a similar experience to that offered up by the latest film from writer-director Justine Triet, Anatomy of a Fall. A woman has been charged with the murder of her husband and it’s up to us as the audience to see the evidence presented, listen to arguments of both the prosecution and the defence, and form a view as to her guilt.
I’d describe the film as a court room drama but not in a traditional sense. Don’t be expecting grandiose speeches, convenient twists, and an easy resolution. This isn’t A Few Good Men where an arrogant Jack Nicholson-like character will lose his cool on the witness stand and get what he deserves. This is a more realistic drama which delves into miniscule details, and explores the complexity of the human condition.
The opening hour chronicles the death and the subsequent investigation. A blind boy, Daniel (Machado-Graner), returns from a walk with his guide dog and finds his father, Samuel (Theis), dead in the driveway. The body is below an open window in the attic of their remote, snow-covered French chalet. Did he fall accidentally? Did he commit suicide? Was he pushed? There are no witnesses or CCTV footage to unequivocally verify either way.
Authorities believe there is enough evidence to prove murder and so the man’s wife, Sandra (Hüller), is put on trial. The court room scenes make up the bulk of the film’s remaining 90 minutes with some lengthy interrogations of Sandra and other individuals including a psychiatrist, a journalist, and their son. Your views as to Sandra’s guilt will likely oscillate – the prosecuting lawyer will make a persuasive point only to have the defence team counter with an equally compelling argument.
To great effect, the film explores ways we perceive and judge others. At times, Sandra is unsteady on the witness stand. She misremembers certain events and is unable to provide a clear explanation for other details. Is this because she’s lying? Is it because we often forget trivial things that happened months ago? Is it because of the nervousness of being on the witness stand and knowing your freedom is at stake?
Triet serves up other interesting subplots to keep minds occupied. Sandra is German-born and so while she can speak half-decent French, it’s far from perfect. This makes it difficult to precisely articulate her mindset to the judge and jury. There’s also the awkward relationship that now exists between mother and son. Daniel believes his mother is innocent but, at the judge’s insistence, an observer must temporarily live with the family to ensure Sandra is not tampering with her son’s recollections or testimony.
Winner of the prestigious Palme d’Or at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, Anatomy of a Fall is the kind of movie you’ll be thinking about days after first seeing it.