After taking the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, the Palme d’Or winning film, Anatomy of a Fall (Anatomie d’une chute) is the latest from director Justine Triet. Coming off of her 2019 film Sibyl, which followed an obsessive psychotherapist intruding into the life of her starlet patient for writing inspiration, Anatomy follows that same throughline of obsession. Except, it is not the obsession of the characters that propel the procedural thriller, rather it is the obsession of the audience itself.
The plot is relatively simple. In the vast emptiness of the French Alps, novelist Sandra Voyter (Sandra Hüller) is under suspicion after her husband was found, by their visually impaired son (Milo Machado Graner), dead after falling from the attic of their house, with his blood spattered all over the snow. Due to the inconclusive autopsy, it is unknown whether or not he committed suicide or was pushed. Charting the nightmarish, year-long court procedure coming immediately after the discovery, Sandra must prove her innocence, as she was the only one in the house at the time when it happened, and she was his wife.
Anatomy of a Fall operates on a multitude of levels, as a courtroom procedural, a thriller, a divorce drama, a ghost story, and it is due to these multitudes that Anatomy evades heavy handed melodrama to firmly place itself in cold realism, moving at a glacial pace before it burns and reopens the wound. Unlike the more recent divorce drama Marriage Story, whose emotional pyrotechnics were parodied and memed to death across the internet, Anatomy never allows its emotional ambition to be easily dismissed. It’s an exhausting film. Lasting 151 minutes, the film is an open casket for the central relationship. We see it all, the contempt and angst in this dead marriage.
This is credit not only to Triet’s precise direction, but also to Sandra Hüller’s quietly devastating performance. It’s a truly lived-in portrayal of a woman usurped by grief, trying to refute the public perception of herself as a monster, and a murderer. It is in her best moments where she is at once both vulnerable yet restrained, where we can tell she’s truthful, yet still an enigma. In each instance where more damning evidence is revealed, we devilishly want to keep poking and prodding deeper, unfurling all the messy details trapped inside her. The film understands our want, and our need for a salacious story.
Triet seems to take the perspective of a documenter in Anatomy of a Fall, and it’s clear about halfway through what Sandra is and is-not guilty of, yet Triet never wants us to be complicit in our opinions. At one point in the film, some talk show hosts liken Sandra’s court case to her novels, and gleefully contemplate the possibility of life imitating art. It seems like Triet wants to reprimand us for our need to distance ourselves from tragedy with tabloid gossip and quick spectacle, in order to try and deal with the bleak truth waiting for us at the end of it all.
‘Anatomy of a Fall’ is currently playing at FilmScene in Iowa City, as of November 4th, 2023.
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