ANATOMY OF A FALL | France | 2023 | 151m | French, English, German
Sandra is a successful German writer who lives in the French Alps with her husband Samuel (Samuel Theis) and their visually impaired son Daniel (Milo Machado Graner). A brilliant, decibel-bursting opening scene suggests tensions in their isolated chalet, so when Samuel is discovered dead in the snow beneath one of their windows, suspicion is quickly aroused. Did he take his own life, or was he pushed to his death? When the investigation proves to be inconclusive — its varying angles hinting at the microscopic examination to come — Sandra is ultimately indicted and put on trial.
A captivating and sharply directed, written, and acted courtroom procedural, Anatomy of a Fall also functions like a trenchant autopsy of confirmation bias and ambiguity itself, with the court an operatic arena in which every gesture, word, and past interaction are ripe for judgment. As scrutiny turns to Sandra’s complex character and her tumultuous relationship with Samuel — their artistic rivalries, romantic jealousies, and contempt — the couple’s young son becomes the key witness.
Taut, suspenseful, and thrilling until the final moment, Anatomy of a Fall progresses like a heady puzzle that tackles the messiness of existence and the often-elusive nature of truth itself.
TIFF REVIEW BY: Darren Zakus
RATING 4 out of 5
Anatomy of a Fall is a chilling legal thriller full of twists and turns in a captivating screenplay, but it is the spellbinding lead performance from Sandra Hüller that makes this French drama a true winner.
After making its debut at Cannes earlier this year, and taking home the Palme d’Or, the legal thriller has hit Canadian soil at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it is no doubt going to enthrall audiences with its excellent screenplay, creating lots of deep and exciting courtroom moments with an exceptional lead performance from Sandra Hüller that is among one of the year’s best performances.
Courtroom dramas have created some memorable movie moments over the decades, as well as some of the most iconic lines… if you can handle the truth. This latest entry in the genre is an exceptional example of why the legal drama genre continues to create riveting stories through its exploration of numerous themes in a thought provoking narrative.
When their young son finds his father dead, having fallen from the third story of their home, Sandra becomes the prime suspect in the murder of her husband. As the sole witness to his father’s death, the couple’s blind son faces the moral dilemma of losing both his parents, or exonerating his mother who has motive to want his father dead. Potential foul play always makes for a good basis for a courtroom drama, especially when there is great suspicion over the circumstances. Anatomy of a Fall is full of rich material with a troubled marriage, the deceased son’s as the only witness with an unreliable memory, and an emotional stake in the outcome of the trial, and tons of motive to spare.
Justine Triet and Arthur Harari’s screenplay does an excellent job of portraying themes of fiction versus reality, unreliable witnesses, trauma and grief, and fractured relationships that can make a spouse the prime suspect in a murder investigation. The dialogue itself is sharp and quick, creating riveting exchanges that make long court sequences fly by while you are on the edge of your seat. The handling of child witnesses is delicate, yet raises numerous thought provoking questions for the audience to digest, while the two sides of the spousal relationship highlights the divide between fiction and reality that the judicial system is faced with during such trials that will keep audiences guessing if the fall was an accident, or foul play. It gets to the human tendencies propelling individuals in such a situation, ashamed of their actions and not being forthcoming, or realizing smaller details they barely remember are actually larger clues to a truth they previously missed. But what the screenplay does best is that it does not provide explicit answers to the question it poses, it instead provides enough evidence for the audience to come to their own conclusions, while the film’s chilling ending will stick with you long after the credits have rolled. If there is one minor complaint, it’s the film’s length at two and a half hours. Some scenes could have been shortened while still delivering its message in a more succinct manner. But as the end result is such a strong narrative, it’s easy to look past the length.
Helping to build the tension is Triet’s masterful direction. The camera work within the courtroom scene captures the large intimidating production of the entire event, while showcasing each character’s moments and testimony that instantly connects you to the drama unfolding. The production design, specifically the snow covered landscapes, adds a sense of paranoia to the entire production, setting the audience on edge as they question whether Sandra could have murdered her husband. Piano music toys with your senses, with strong harsh chords acting like nails on a chalkboard to set you off as you wait for the next shocking reveal. Plus, the hilarious and smart use of 50 Cent’s “P.I.M.P.” Is an added bonus to such a well crafted film. Every aspect of the film is carefully plotted out by Triet, ensuring that this is a true cinematic experience that will stay with you longer after you’ve left the theater.
Though, it is Hüller’s lead performance as Sandra that is the shining star of the entire film. Never wasting a second on screen, Hüller is a tour de force that propels the entire film. The masterful way that she spins a line, displaying vulnerability, cunningness and a fiery fight to assert her innocence was entrancing. With each scene, she has you running circles in your mind as you go back and forth on her guilt or innocence. Whether it be a tender moment with her son, an outburst in court, or a moment where she carefully chooses her words to not implicate herself, Hüller is sensational and should be landing a best actress nomination for her performance.
Never for a second failing to live up to the hype from its Cannes debut, Anatomy of a Fall is an exhilarating cinematic experience that cannot be missed. Sharp dialogue, a captivating story with some of the best courtroom sequences in recent memory, and an outstanding lead performance from Sandra Hüller, Anatomy of a Fall is without question one of the great courtroom dramas in recent memory.