Gemma Creagh witnesses a courtroom drama.
The winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year, Anatomy of a Fall / Anatomie d’une chute is a beautifully observed breakdown of a fractured and failing marriage told under the guise of a murder mystery/courtroom drama.
In their remote chalet in Grenoble, German novelist Sandra Voyter (Sandra Hüller) is interrupted by her husband Samuel, blaring obnoxiously loud music. The intrusion causes her interviewer to leave. Later, their visually impaired son, Daniel returns home with his guide dog and finds Samuel dead in the driveway. He’s submerged in snow, a trail of blood behind him. When the authorities begin to suspect foul play, Sandra finds herself under intense scrutiny. She reaches out to a family friend, a lawyer, Vincent Renzi (Swann Arlaud) who begins to plan her defence. Faced with the unusual blood spatter and an argument Samuel had secretly recorded, the authorities decide to indict Sandra.
On the stand, the prosecutor puts pressure on Sandra, and she’s forced to reveal the most intimate and violent moments of her strained marriage to the court and ultimately the world given the media interest in her case. This takes a heavy toll on Daniel, who, while processing his own grief, begins to question his mother’s innocence.
At two hours and thirty one minutes, this film earns its languid pace. The back and forth of the investigation and then courtroom scenes take their time to build, and are interspersed with fragmented memory. This is a very effective storytelling tool, especially when paired with the tantalising slow release of information. This film harks back to another era, low key, not overtly heightened or relying on sharp, frequent cuts or an obtrusive soundtrack to keep out attention. Also it brings a unique Frenchness to a classic American genre.
Writer/Director Justine Triet wrote Anatomy of a Fall with her partner Arthur Harari; this is a dark observation for a couple to make, taking into consideration the truthful and destructive nature of the marriage on trial. They created the role specifically for Hüller, who had previously starred in Triet’s 2019 film Sibyl. While Hüller delivers a nuanced performance, carrying the appropriate beats while still withholding so much, it’s the young son played by Machado-Graner who anchors the emotional heart of the film. The themes are expertly laid out around what is a deep characterisation of a woman and a mother with complex needs and wants.
The brilliance of this film lies in the murkiness, Sandra Voyter is not a likeable character, she’s not overtly warm and people pleasing, and this begs the question as to if the accusations put to her are gendered? If you reversed the sexes of the two leads, this would be a very different film.
Anatomy of a Fall is in cinemas from 10th November 2023.