Directed by: Justine Triet
Premise: A woman (Sandra Hüller) is accused of murdering her husband (Samuel Theis). The trial reveals difficulties and conflicts of their marriage to their blind son (Milo Machado Graner) who is the only witness.
What Works: Anatomy of a Fall is a domestic drama melded with a courtroom story. A man’s suspicious death implicates his wife and the trial becomes a vehicle to examine the marriage. What at first appears to be a functional and stable relationship is gradually revealed to be much more volatile and unhappy. The parents tried to keep their discontent from their son but the testimony reveals the ugly truth of their marriage. The situation between the husband and wife is somewhat abusive but the filmmakers aim for something more complex than a single battered spouse scenario. There isn’t a definitive villain or victim here. The violence and verbal abuse are mutual and both the husband and the wife’s grievances are credible. It’s a complex portrait of a family and the truth of the marriage has implications for the reality of relationships, especially the imbalances and jealousies that may develop, and the way in which our understanding of reality is shaped by belief. The story is terrifically assembled with the narrative occasionally jumping around the timeline but it is always clear how one scene relates to the others. Anatomy of a Fall also has terrific performances. Sandra Hüller plays the accused woman and Hüller embraces the complexity of the character. She’s not a psychopath but there is an undercurrent of coldness and even viciousness to the character. Samuel Theis plays the husband and although he’s not in the movie very much Theis makes an impression that colors the whole film. The standout scene is an extended flashback to an argument between the couple which is a showcase for Hüller and Theis’s depth of character. Milo Machado Graner is also impressive as their son Daniel. He has to process all of this information about his parents and that loss of innocence is evident in Machado Graner’s performance.
What Doesn’t: Anatomy of a Fall is really about the son and the way this boy sees his parents and their marriage in a new light. The film may have been stronger if it brought Daniel forward in the story and centered scenes from his point of view. Daniel is also very precocious. This is especially true in the end in which the son is given dialogue that plays a little too polished and mature for his age. During the trial the filmmakers show us past scenes of the marriage as a substitute for listening to the courtroom testimony. That’s a smart filmmaking choice but Anatomy of a Fall loses some of its ambiguity. By presenting a definitive version of these events, the picture doesn’t play on the subtleties of perception and point of view and the way our preconceptions create meaning.
Bottom Line: Anatomy of a Fall is a smart film with a lot going on just underneath its surface. The filmmakers miss some opportunities to sharpen the story’s focus but Anatomy of a Fall is a complex portrait of a family with some exceptional performances.
Episode: #973 (November 12, 2023)