THE STORY – Sandra, a German writer, is arrested for murder following her husband’s death in the snow under mysterious circumstances and tries to prove her innocence during the trial.
THE CAST – Sandra Hüller, Swann Arlaud, Milo Machado-Graner, Jehnny Beth, Saadia Bentaieb, Samuel Theis
THE TEAM – Justine Triet (Director/Writer) & Arthur Harari (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 150 Minutes
What is the truth? Really. When it comes down to the judicial process of determining a person’s guilt or innocence of a crime, when put up to a jury to finally decide, it typically comes down to what each one of those jurors believes. In Justine Triet’s riveting courtroom drama “Anatomy Of A Fall,” the audience is granted that power. We serve as the jury members for her two-and-a-half thoughtful and thorough examination of a murder case and trial, but what it ultimately reveals itself to be is an anatomy of a relationship. And it’s only then, by carefully considering all of the facts and intricacies of human behavior, that we can cast a rational decision on who we believe is guilty or not.
Sandra Voyter (Sandra Hüller) is a German writer living in an isolated home in the snowy mountains of France with her French husband, Samuel Maleski (Samuel Theis), who is also a writer but nowhere near as successful as her. Their relationship is not built on fair compromise as it’s shown later on to be an imbalance of responsibility to their son Daniel (Milo Machado-Graner), who suffered an accident before the events within the film take place, which damaged his optic nerve, leaving him partially blind. Sandra and Samuel each have different opinions on who is to blame for the accident, but that is only one wrinkle in their fraught relationship.
One afternoon, when Sandra has a young woman visit her home to conduct an interview with her about her writing, Smauel blasts an instrumental version of 50 Cent’s “P.I.M.P.” throughout the house. The act is seen as commonplace by Sandra. Still, she’s clearly agitated by it this time as the beautiful interviewer with whom Sandra was forming a nice connection is forced to leave due to the obnoxious noise level. While the music continues, Sandra then retreats with earplugs in hand for a nap. After going out for a walk earlier during this event, Daniel later arrives home with his dog Snoop to find his father’s lifeless body lying outside the home, below an open window on the top floor, with his head split wide open from the fall. Sandra comes rushing down the stairs after hearing her son’s cries, and the police are called. Was it either an accident, murder, or suicide? Sandra’s lawyer, Vincent Renzi (Swann Arlaud), is brought in as the police start conducting their own investigation. He tells Sandra no one will believe that what happened to her husband was a fall (as the title supposedly suggests) and that the only way to prove her innocence as the prime suspect in what the court will look to rule as murder is suicide. However, her son Daniel is the case’s key witness, and whatever he ultimately believes will seal her fate.
Triet’s camera follows Sandra throughout the 150-minute runtime as we, the audience, track the case and subsequent trial. On the surface, the film pronounces itself to be a courtroom drama and procedural, but as the story develops, it becomes evident that Sandra, as a person, is the case, and to best understand what happened between her and her husband, we must understand her. So, “Anatomy Of A Fall” is more of a character-driven story than anything else, and with such considerate writing and strong direction from Triet (co-written alongside Arthur Harari), the opportunity is afforded to Sandra Hüller to deliver her best performance to date. Hüller is extraordinary in a can’t-look-away performance that grips you from beginning to end, constantly making you wonder if her character did or didn’t murder her husband. Speaking German (her native tongue), French (the language of her husband), and English (the language the two of them have agreed to speak in their private lives), she displays a range of emotions from admirable strength in the face of the intelligent and imposing prosecutor’s (Antoine Reinartz) line of questioning, to watcher she barely held together composure become rattled and broken later on as the pressure is applied. It’s a thrillingly complex performance which, after many years since her international breakout performance in the Oscar-nominated “Toni Erdmann,” finally presents a large enough canvas for her to craft a dynamic portrayal and showcase her gifted talents as an actress.
Packing enough material in its runtime that could justifiably fill a television miniseries’ worth of story, an extensive case is laid out before us as Triet takes us through dramatic testimonials, emotionally soul-shaking moral dilemmas (where Milo Machado-Graner’s astounding performance comes alive in the third act), and flashes of reenactments of what happened that fateful day between Sandra and Samuel so we can visually see all of the possibilities. But despite the facts, the testimonies, and the context, no matter how meticulous the presentation may be, it all comes down to belief. There will forever be uncertainty, but who are we to judge? Who is the victim, and who is the monster? Such questions and many more lie within Triet’s thought-provoking drama, given humanity and additional layers of complexity by Hüller’s phenomenal performance. If there’s any justice to be found in this world, it will stem from the belief of hoping Hüller and Triet will be rightfully recognized come this awards season for their work in this.