Legal dramas can often be tedious and slow-paced, showcasing how long the judicial process can be. However, that is not the case for Justine Triet’s new film Anatomy of a Fall. The film had its world premiere at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Palme d’Or and the Palm Dog Award.
The story takes place in France, where German writer Sandra, lives with her husband, and 11-year-old blind son, Daniel. One day, when Daniel returns from his daily walks, he stumbles upon his father’s dead body, who appears to have fallen from the attic. However, as the investigations begin, Sandra quickly finds herself accused of murder and must prove her innocence.
There are many things that surprised me about this movie, and I must confess that I wasn’t sure what to expect from it at the beginning. However, from the very first minute, I found myself very intrigued by the setting (which takes place inside a lonely and cold cabin in France) and the characters.
The story starts with Sandra, who is being interviewed by a fellow writer while her son is bathing his dog. From that moment on, I was captivated by the chemistry and tension of the conversation. A few minutes later, the story officially begins when Daniel finds his father’s dead body and the investigation starts.
I was amazed by the case itself, and the way that Justine Triet slowly delivers new information to the audience which makes it impossible to come up with solid conclusions. Everyone is a suspect and you can’t literally trust no one. Besides, the fact that Sandra’s only alibi is his blind son, who wasn’t even in the house when the death took place, is completely nerve-racking, because there’s no way to know who’s telling the truth.
We should stop for a few seconds to talk about Sandra Hüller’s performance. I wasn’t familiar with her work, but in Anatomy of a Fall, she is a total class act. She delivers her character with such ease, that for a moment you forget she’s acting. Sandra is a very complex character, and the film truly explores a topic that is not usually mentioned: power dynamics and how can success impact a couple’s life. While Sandra is a successful writer, her husband struggles to find inspiration and over time, he can barely keep up with her.
Sexuality, and sexism, are very strong topics too. In fact, the film centers on many topics instead of murder. What starts as a simple fall, becomes a twisted case that just gets messier and messier as the truth unfolds. The question here is not what happened or who did it, but why. When Sandra is in court, many aspects of her life are questioned: her sexuality, her role as a mother, and her professional life. The questions are harsh, and there are moments where you feel frustrated that she has to answer them, because they seem to be irrelevant to the case.
Definitely one of the highlights of this film is the acting. Not only Sandra Hüller is fascinating, but the entire cast is. Milo Machado Graner, who plays Sandra’s son Daniel is a big surprise. His character seems, for moments, like an old man trapped inside a kid’s body. There are other instances where you actually consider him to be the author of the crime, his lost gaze, and his behavior (at some point sociopathic) often come as creepy and unsettling.
Other actors who deserve a special mention are Swann Arlaud and Samuel Theis. Arlaud plays Sandra’s lawyer and ex-lover, and the chemistry he has with her is so intense, that you spend the entire film wondering if there’s going to happen something between them. In Samuel Theis’ case, it’s a little different because we only see his character in one scene. But it is so powerful and so dramatic, that leaves a big impression and distress of not knowing what happened.
And the ending is quite something. I knew it from the very first moment that it was going to leave me thinking for hours, and it really did. As you would expect from a story in which there seems to be no way to prove Sandra’s innocence, even as you get an answer on what happened, you’re not actually convinced it’s true. It seems like the characters know more than what they are saying, and that’s a feeling that reaches to the audience too.
For a film that is two hours and thirty minutes long, there is not a single boring moment. The scenes inside the court which divulge new information about the case are so interesting and so dynamic that make time fly. Also, the way that it’s filmed makes it look so intimate and at the same time, very distanced. It’s quite unique, and I haven’t seen something like that in a while.
I haven’t seen the other competing films, but I must say that I’m not surprised Anatomy of a Fall won the Palm d’Or. It’s a movie that has everything, and it’s so much more than just a trial film. It’s a solid drama about family, being a successful woman, and how relationships work nowadays. I think everyone should watch it, and I really hope that the industry gives it the recognition it truly deserves.
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