Thu, April 25, 2024

Anatomy of a Fall is a meal for audiences

One of the more intricate and exciting films released this year was Justine Triet’s French-English crime drama Anatomy of a Fall, starring Sandra Huller and nominated for five Academy Awards. With a mistrustful protagonist, an anxious setting, and an open ending, fans of murder mysteries, character studies, or psychological dramas will eat this flick up with a side salad.

The film centers around the mysterious death of writer, Samuel Maleski, who falls from the second story of his chalet in Grenoble after sabotaging an interview of his wife, author, Sandra Maleski (played by Huller), with a student by blasting rap music from his room. His body is discovered by his son, Daniel, who is visually impaired from a car accident some years prior, and Daniel’s sight dog, Snoop.

The coroner’s investigation of the body leaves room for scrutiny towards Sandra: was this an accidental fall, or was he deliberately pushed? Sandra maintains her innocence with the aid of her lawyer, Vincent Renzi, who doubts her story.

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She is taken to court to prove that she didn’t kill Samuel. Cross-examined, we hear of a tumultuous marriage laced with infidelity, arguments, therapy, and guilt. The stone-faced Sandra, it is revealed, lifted one of her husband’s stories as her own. Samuel recorded conversations and fights with her, which were played before the court. She attempts to broadly contextualize the towering evidence against her as the pitfalls of a relationship, like any other relationship. All the while, young Daniel listens in to every word of the trial, attempting to put pieces together in his own, traumatized mind what his parents were like when he wasn’t around. Daniel himself takes the stage later in the film and rattles the court into their verdict.

This is only part of the story, but the risk of giving too much away constrains me from spilling anymore. The film must be experienced in its entirety. It plays not so much as a whodunit, but rather a did-she-or-didn’t-she-do-it, oscillating the audience’s perception and challenging its trust and patience.

The movie is masterfully co-written and directed by Justine Triet (and co-writer, Arthur Harari), who draws out visual vignettes for allegations. Like the great film Citizen Kane, it begins with a death and uses the remaining two hours to pick up pieces of life; in this case, multiple lives. It debates reality vs. memory; vision vs. imagination. A testament to this script’s strength is that the court’s verdict does not suffice the audience’s inquiry. Among the plethora of questions echoing through the viewer’s mind:

Okay, but did she really do it?

Did he do it to frame her?

What about the son? Did he do it?

Did the dog do it? I’m losing my mind!

 It’s the kind of film that ignites conversation. The audience is the final juror. Everyone from the avid movie critic to the beauty shop gossiper could spend hours unpacking this story. First, it moves slowly, but as the pieces to the greater puzzle (first with this case, then with Sandra as a human being) become clearer, not a single second is insignificant.

The film has been met with rave reviews by critics and has scored many an award recognition. Among them at the Oscars, Best Actress for Sandra Huller, who mysteriously fills the screen like the Mona Lisa – one can only imagine what is echoing through her mind. Huller is one of the rare examples of an unclear performance benefitting a film. There is just no telling what she is thinking, no clues or suggestions to give the audience clarity (even when we desperately want it). She plays an enigma of a character, professing innocence while appearing unreadable. She contradicts herself, but is she aware?

And, of course, the internet is head-over-heels in love with Messi, the husky who plays Snoop. Yes, he is that good. Yes, he is adorable. Yes, he adds another layer of mystery, even with an IQ of about 100.

Despite being nominated for Best Picture, the film’s Oscar campaign team should be ashamed of themselves for not vying for the Best International Feature category, where it would have been a shoo-in to win, guaranteeing at least one trophy. Alas, it must face the ever-present battle of subtitle tolerance in other stacked categories, such as Best Original Screenplay and Best Director. Nonetheless, it has earned its recognition.

To stimulate the mind and have an engaging viewing experience, watch Anatomy of a Fall. If you can, I encourage you to watch it with several people. Enjoy the half-hour debate that follows.

The film is available for rent on Amazon Prime Video starting at $5.99.

Dylan James graduated from the Savannah College of Art & Design with a BFA in Dramatic Writing. He has studied both the ‘show’ and ‘business’ aspects of show business since childhood, and writes through sociological analysis, seeking relevance in the art and commerce for the moment.

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