Toronto Film Festival 2023: Anatomy of a Fall
Director: Justine Triet
Writers: Justine Triet, Arthur Harari
Starring: Sandra Hüller, Samuel Theis, Swann Arlaud, Milo Machado Graner
Runtime: 2 Hour 31 Minutes
The much-lauded winner of this year’s Palme d’Or, Justine Triet’s fourth feature has cemented her status as one of today’s great filmmaking talents. Unfolding over two-and-a-half hours like a compulsively readable novel, the riveting Anatomy of a Fall is both a dissection of an intimate relationship and of the judiciary process.
Sandra (a ferocious, magnetic, and edgy Sandra Hüller, also at the Festival in Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest) 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.
Anatomy of a Fall is one of those International films that actually feels even better if you watch it as a foreigner. There's something about watching a court room drama from another country from the perspective of a foreigner with no sense of the criminal justice system in that country. In this film in particular, its jarring to see how the prosecutors and judge hound Sandra (Sandra Hüller) as the accused. What makes a good court room dramas work is its ability to pull the audience into the situation. Anatomy of a Fall takes it a step further and even adds in whodunit elements to have the audience completely guessing as to if Sandra is guilty or not. It's as if the film treats the audience as the traditional jury and each scene is laid out as a way for either the defense or prosecution to present their case in order to sway the jury. Where Anatomy of a Fall succeeds where other films fail is that at no point does it take the audience for granted and what's presented never feels like an empty red heron. Witnesses make mistakes. Scenarios seem implausible but not impossible, leaving room for doubt.
Director Justine Triet does a brilliant job of pulling the audience into the situation of this movie and making them FEEL the tension and environment. If you already didn't have strong negative feelings about rapper 50 Cent's song P.I.M.P, then you will probably dread/hate the song after. The obnoxious use of the song by the victim (Sandra's husband) is enough to drive the audience crazy. It's not really a downside though as it's clearly done on purpose. The whole point is to pull the audience into the moment and start thinking things like "Maybe Sandra did it because of how annoying he is" and "She has to be lying when she says the song didn't annoy her because it's annoying me".
Anatomy of a Fall is definitely well worth the watch. The drama and tension leads right up through the end of the film and will leave audiences engaged the entire time.
Listen as Kriss is joined by the Review Crew to talk about this film. Anatomy of a Fall showed at the Toronto Film Festival 2023 and has been selected by France to represent the country in the Best International Film category at the 96th Academy Awards.
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