Anatomy of a Fall review: Justine Triet’s forensic deconstruction of a marriage
The Voyter couple’s marriage is clearly not a happy one. Played by the imperious Sandra Hüller with an enrapturing level of composure and desperation in equal parts, tension seems to underline each recollection in wife Sandra’s testimony. Therefore, when Samuel (Samuel Theis) is found dead in the snow by their visually impaired son Daniel (Milo Machado-Graner), either having fallen, jumped, or been pushed from the attic window, fingers are pointed to the first and, in fact, only suspect, his wife.
Throughout the following investigation and trial, the lines of fact and fiction, of right and wrong and even the meaning of objective truth are all questioned as the audience is brought along for the ride, all whilst debating with their own conflicted heart and minds. It is this aspect that is perhaps the film’s greatest strength. Director Justine Triet invites empathy for the accused Sandra and thus almost sets a trap for its viewer as the evidence builds up against her.
Through this conflicting state of knowing and unknowing, our every presumption and bias from the start of the film is put into question. Anatomy of a Fall sets itself apart from the typical courtroom drama, crafting an intricate script that refuses to be limited by tedious genre tropes. Instead, it engages with the audience as a juror through an infectious dynamism that hardly loosens its grip for the over two-and-a-half-hour runtime.
The prosecution is deliberately painted by Triet as obnoxious and arrogant, many of their arguments appearing elaborate and contrived whilst always delivered with an assured smirk. Naturally, this builds a distracting resentment of their case, lulling us into emotion just enough to cloud our judgement and make any subsequent revelations even more jarring. Some audience members might view these, at times bizarre, arguments as out of place in the nerve-wracking realism of the film. However, I’d suggest they only further contribute to our own emotional involvement with the plot and enhance the extremities of hate, hope and sympathy which mark any good cinematic experience.
The instant and immense success of Anatomy of a Fall at the French box office may have come as a surprise to its director Justine Triet but, to me, it seemed inevitable given its revitalising approach to the murder mystery/courtroom drama. Recently there seems to have been a surge in the genre in film and TV, from shows such as Only Murders in the Building to Kenneth Branagh’s Poirot trilogy. It is safe to say that the general public is familiar with the well-worn conventions of this genre.
Therefore, when such a refreshing attempt is devised, you cannot help but look up and take notice, especially when that attempt comes with one of the most raw and authentic screenplays of the year. In particular, there is a central flashback/reconstruction documenting one of the couple’s arguments that is a marvel to behold in both writing and line delivery.
Nevertheless, what this and every murder mystery comes down to is quite simple: Did they do it? Yet, with all the twists and turns of this film, that is one aspect among many whose answer isn’t plainly laid out. Even when confronting the director with this predictably burning question, Triet’s response was similarly uncertain, refusing to say, insisting that even she doesn’t know the answer.
Ultimately, Anatomy of a Fall leaves the truth on the screen, to a scene that we’ll never see and an answer we will never receive. But isn’t that the greatest pleasure of cinema? The tangible fantasy of the world presented before us and yet the unknowability of its details, only understanding what is allotted for our viewing and leaving the niggling doubts that remain to ambiguity, just ever so slightly out of reach.
Anatomy of a Fall is available to watch in cinemas now.