Anatomy of a Fall is fascinating and bewildering French murder mystery that balloons into a tense and shocking courtroom drama! Winner of the coveted Palme d’Or, the highest prize awarded at the Cannes Film Festival, I had been dying to see Anatomy of a Fall since I first peeked at the reviews. The combination of detective and legal procedural made this a standout for me, but I was more drawn to the fact that the prime suspect was a writer who is now fighting to prove her innocence. At every turn in this film, we confront real aspects of life and relationships that fuel this film into something truly unique.
Sandra Voyter (Sand Huller) is a renowned writer and teacher who now lives in France with her husband Samuel Samuel Theiss) and their partially blind son Daniel (Milo Machado-Graner). Sandra is set to give an interview, but Samuel’s music and housework fill the home with deafening noise, sending Sandra off to her room early and Daniel out to walk with the family dog. Upon Daniel’s return home, he finds his father’s body dead on the ice, supposedly having fallen out from the highest window in the attic. After authorities deem the cause of death inconclusive, Sandra hires her fried and lawyer Vincent (Swann Arlaud) to help prove she had nothing to do with the death.
This film is a brilliant study of how damning certain things look in the light when they’re under a microscope. The extent to which detectives and medical experts work to prove beyond reasonable doubt that someone was or wasn’t killed is fascinating to watch in detail, especially as they work through all possibilities. Of course, much of what they’re doing is also up-close and extremely personal to a grieving family, creating this somewhat uncomfortable cloud that hangs over the family’s heads. Everyone understands that this work must be done, but that doesn’t mean they have to enjoy it and the fallout from the investigation.
Once it seems Sandra might not be completely innocent, the film shifts to a courtroom battle that had me shifting in my seat the entire time. You know actors are great at their jobs when you find yourself actively pissed off at the prosecutor, who’s played brilliantly by Antoine Reinartz. The back and forth between Arlaud and Reinartz is beyond engaging, especially as they question Huller and Machado-Graner. Involving the young boy in the legal proceedings creates another element of discomfort in the case, as he begins to learn far more than he could have imagined about his parents’ marriage.
Anatomy of a Fall completely captivated my attention and conscious from the moment it started and never failed to let go until reaching the white-knuckle conclusion. The performances in the film are all exceptional, all pulling their own weight and making this an easy choice for me as far as SAG Ensemble nominations go. The writing and direction from Justine Triet show a vast understanding of the human condition and a masterful ability to conduct such a piece of film. This film extends far beyond the surface level looks we get from most true crime entertainment, and it examines the core of these individuals, as nothing is off limits when looking for the truth.
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