Daniel Maleski (Milo Machado-Grenier), like all witnesses to a crime, only gets to see part of the whole story. After an afternoon of walking his dog, he goes home to find his father, Samuel, dead after falling of a window of their home up in the French Alps. His mother, German novelist Sandra Voyter (Sandra Huller), comes out of the house, also in shock. The police find grounds to indict her for his death. It’s her job, now, to defend herself in both the real court and the court of public opinion.
Helping Sandra out is a lawyer friend, Maitre Vincent Renzi (Swann Arlaud), who has to represent her both in press conferences and in actual court proceedings. He has a climb that’s uphill enough. Together, they have to deal with expert witnesses and a combative prosecution lawyer who digs up a recording of an argument she and Samuel have the day before he dies. There’s a third arena in Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall. And that is Daniel and Sandra’s home, becoming more subtly alienating and unsettling as the trial continues.
What separates Anatomy of a Fall from other court dramas is how it creates its unsettling tone. It uses these long takes as Vincent interrogates either Daniel or Sandra. The interrogator is out of the frame so the film only shows a character who has to make sense of their loss to a public that only wants to see blame. There’s also the use of music. Classical pieces class against what is arguably the best use of a 50 Cent song in a film. None of these techniques are new but it uses them efficiently.
There are elements that would normally make a film like Anatomy of a Fall fall apart, but surprisingly, they make the film better. The direct experience of watching that misogynistic prosecutor may make viewers feel like they’re watching that one bad scene in Psycho, but longer. He seems like a character who wants to reduce in a film about digging for unknown knowns. That’s one way of interpreting such a character. Another is that he’s like everyone in the film who is digging but is, expanding on the metaphor, looking at things incorrectly.
Balancing that guy out, thankfully, is Huller, who is excellent at playing someone smart and does questionable things. In fairness, can be both under the kind of scrutiny that Sandra experiences throughout the course of Anatomy. Huller breathes life into a character whose past betrays her. What we see her is a confluence of great acting and writing. At one point, she may make viewers feel like every move of the needle is a deliberate manipulation. At others, we see someone who knows that people are monsters but insists she is not the kind who kills.
- Rated: 18
- Genre: crime, Drama, Mystery
- Release Date: 10/27/2023
- Directed by: Justine Triet
- Starring: Milo Machado-Graner, Sandra Hüller, Swann Arlaud
- Produced by: David Thion, Marie-Ange Luciani, Philippe Martin
- Written by: Arthur Harari, Justine Triet
- Studio: CNC, France Télévisions, Région Nouvelle-Aquitaine