4.5 out of 5 stars

Anatomy of a Fall / Anatomie d’une chute presents an idyllic scene in its opening minutes. A border collie chases a tennis ball down into the bottom floor of an impressive chalet overlooking the breathtaking French Alps. Renowned novelist Sandra Voyter (Sandra Hüller) is being interviewed by young Zoé Solidor (Camille Rutherford), who enjoys a glass of red wine despite claiming she only drinks at night. Sandra smirks, hinting at her attraction to her interviewer, and playfully laughs at her answers. Perhaps there’s a mutual attraction…

Suddenly, an instrumental version of 50 Cent’s “P.I.M.P.” blares from three floors up, assaulting their ears. “My husband is working,” Sandra says, undercutting the energy of the interview as the song repeats itself. These few moments of levity are punctuated with an unspoken tension that defines this emotionally charged and poignantly powerful courtroom thriller

Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall, winner of the Palme d’Or at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, which co-wrote with her partner Arthur Harari, follows the suspenseful drama of a complex woman, Sandra, accused of murdering her husband, Samuel Maleski (Samuel Theis), in the French Alps. Their partially blind son, Daniel (Milo Machado Graner), becomes the centre of the trial, his testimony holding the key to Sandra’s fate.

Anatomy of a Fall is a wholly original, meticulously crafted courtroom drama that stands out from its predecessors. It evokes Otto Preminger’s classic Anatomy of a Murder (1959), but Triet is clearly uninterested in merely replicating the past. Instead, she creates a fresh and innovative film that’s perhaps one of the best courtroom movies ever made.

From the moment Daniel discovers his father’s body, this slow-burning thriller grips the viewer with its meticulous attention to detail. Every aspect of the investigation is meticulously depicted, from reenactments of the conversation between Daniel’s parents that he overhears as he leaves to walk the dog, to test dummies falling from the attic, to reporters barraging lawyers with questions outside the courthouse. Each scene leads us deeper into the case, building suspense as we head towards the trial. The precision of a modern death investigation is on full display, and the stakes are clear: Sandra’s life is on the line.

Sandra Hüller delivers one of the best performances of the year as a German woman put on trial in her husband’s childhood town, where she feels out of place and is forced to speak her third language. The trial exposes her marriage to the core, and her son sits by, watching her slowly unravel.

Language and nationalism play a large role in the trial, as the Avocat général (Antoine Reinartz) hurls insults and condemnation at Sandra. Only her lawyer and only friend, Vincent (Swann Arlaud), believes in her innocence and allows her to be herself.

Outside the courtroom, their interactions are Sandra’s only link to humanity as her son grows further and further away from her. “I’m not a monster, you know. Everything you hear in the trial it’s just twisted,” she pleads to Daniel.

Milo Machado-Graner perfectly compliments Hüller in the film, giving one of the best acting roles by a child in a long time. As the film progresses, his heart grows more torn and he has to confide in the court-appointed guardian, Marge Berger (Jehnny Beth), the soul-crushing weight of the trial on him. His eyes tell so much of the story, from doubt to moral elusiveness to pure joy, Machado-Graner deserves all the praise for his heart-wrenching, star-making role.

Throughout, the film maintains an aura of mystery about what happened to Samuel, leaving us, the audience, to play the role of the jury. Did he fall? Did he jump on purpose? Did Sandra push him? In one of the film’s most engrossing scenes, the court listens to a recording Samuel made of a fight between him and Sandra the day before his death, without her knowledge. Triet then jumps back in time to show us the fight played out between Samuel and Sandra. It’s a gruelling extended fight that seems to freeze time, framed as a moment in time without directorial control, just two characters in a passionate brawl. But before the fight grows violent, Triet takes us back into the courtroom, reducing the hits and smashing glass to only our ears, along with the jury.

Triet is always careful not to show violence in the film. We hear it and we see the aftermath of it in Samuel’s death, but its absence is felt. Where answers to the case could be shown, Triet is more concerned with the film’s rumination on family and the love that persists in the face of doubt. It’s a triumph to make a movie so engrossing from a structural and thematic point of view. Each minute of its runtime is earned.

Anatomy of a Fall is one of the best films of the year, an ambitious and thoughtful work of art that transcends the thriller genre. It invites the viewer to investigate a mystery, but leaves a lasting impact with the stark image of Daniel’s eyes, brimming with such emotion that they stay with us long after we leave the cinema.


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Cast & Crew

director: Justine Triet.
writers: Justine Triet & Arthur Harari.
starring: Sandra Hüller, Swann Arlaud, Milo Machado-Graner, Antoine Reinartz, Samuel Theis, Jehnny Beth, Saadia Bentaieb, Camille Rutherford, Anne Rotger & Sophie Fillières.