For the past year, Sandra, her husband Samuel, and their eleven-year-old son Daniel have lived a secluded life in a remote town in the French Alps. When Samuel is found dead in the snow below their chalet, the police question whether he was murdered or committed suicide. Samuel’s suspicious death is presumed murder, and Sandra becomes the main suspect. What follows is not just an investigation into the circumstances of Samuel’s death but an unsettling psychological journey into the depths of Sandra and Samuel’s conflicted relationship.
Anatomy of a Fall opens with a fall, more precisely a fall from a story- a narrative. The fall is never seen, just the bloody aftermath in the snow, white and fresh as a sheet of paper waiting on a pen to give it words and meaning. The victim/causality is a an aspiring writer, Samuel (Samuel Theis). The suspect/innocent person is his more successful wife, Sandra (Sandra Huller), a novelist, who like her environment is stoic, remote and a little cold.
The movie isn’t really interested in finding answers but exploring the questions, the various narratives and directions, the facts and inquiries that come with each new discovery. The director, Justine Triet and her fellow screenwriter (and mate) Arthur Harari use the trial and discovery process (the anatomy of the title) to invite the audience (essentially the only jury that can render a valid verdict) on Sandra. That includes everything- her drinking, sexual quirks, her aloofness, her moments of cruelty and kindness, even critiquing her writing. She will be totally explored physically, emotionally , creatively. Anatomy of a Fall is both her movie and novel waiting for the impartial viewer and reader to form an opinion of her oeuvre.
There’s never really a motive assigned to Sandra, just created alibis for the audience to determine the truth or fiction. People are unknowable- the creative process is unknowable, undefinable Anatomy of a Fall seems intent on insisting. There are only the stories they create with fidelity or infidelity or more likely a mixture of both. Sandra can’t be convicted because it would also mean that the audience would have to sentence themselves for every single irreconcilable contradiction between heart and mind.
Anatomy of a Fall spends it 150 minutes showing that life is essentially a compendium of competing narratives, showing how every marriage has two storytellers- that are always blending biography and self creation. Life means figuring out which is which and if the individual can find enough like minded souls who agree enough to keep one from the gallows.
The camera work of Simon Beaufils switches from composed compositions to one that zips and zooms to courtroom reaction shots whenever experts are introduced and cross examined. The effect is dizzying in the way it creates viewer uncertainty, how it refuses to focus on any one argument, interpretation long enough to rest emotionally and mentally in the viewer as an essential truth.
In a marriage, even a broken one as displayed in Anatomy of a Fall, the most important judge is the child. In this case he is a nearly blind preteen uncomfortable becoming a character in dueling legal narratives. His poor vision is a cinematic metaphor for the viewer’s struggle to see the truth. Like the way the boy taught himself to play the piano through constant trial and error, failures redefined until the music is right and perfect, that is how the audience must shift the facts and narrative, finding the happy medium.
Triet’s deliberate cinematic style forces the viewer to decide Sandra’s guilt or innocence. Triet trusts the intelligent and observant viewer will figure it out to their satisfaction. The truth of Anatomy of a Fall is whatever the viewer will see in it. It’s both a map to nowhere and somewhere. Triet may not even know the truth of Samuel’s death. If she does, she’s taking that secret to the grave.
Anatomy of a Fall gets a 4.0 out of 5 or an A-.
- Justine Triet
- Marie-Ange Luciani
- David Thion
- Sandra Hüller
- Swann Arlaud
- Milo Machado-Graner
- Saadia Bentaieb
- Camille Rutherford
- Anne Rotger
- Les Films Pelléas
- Les Films de Pierre