Anatomy of a Fall is French filmmaker Justine Triet’s fourth feature film. The film received the Palme d’Or (as well as the Palme Dog) at this year’s Cannes awards, and is receiving significant buzz ahead of the 96th Academy Awards, largely thanks to the script’s electric pace and astuteness, and a phenomenal performance from Sandra Huller. Impact’s Christy Clark reviews.
Some of my favourite films from the last few years have been non-English features, such as Lukas Dhont’s Close, and Full Time by Eric Gravel. Still, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived at Broadway Cinema to watch Anatomy of a Fall, having not seen Triet’s work before.
The trailer introduces us to the tragic death of the protagonist’s husband, along with the ambiguity of whether he was pushed or whether she pushed him. The plot then branches out into a courtroom, where much of the story is told, navigating between languages towards its conclusion, as it follows the case’s trajectory back and forth through flashbacks.
It’s true that we’ve all seen the ‘courtroom drama’ any number of times, something I was wary of as I took my seat. Yet I’m here, writing a review, so you’d imagine that it avoids the cliché nature of the genre. It does.
The emotions Triest’s picture draws from the audience don’t always align with our typical morals
Anatomy is a film that makes you think. Foremost, though, it makes you feel. The emotions Triest’s picture draws from the audience don’t always align with our typical morals. I found myself feeling sympathy for a morally ambiguous character, as well as recognising that the offensive nature of court trials may not be fair, even on those guilty; day after day of interrogation is not justice to anyone involved. I was also struck by Triet’s refusal to prioritise a language of storytelling.
Sandra, the accused woman, is German, living in the French Alps with her husband and son. Yet many of the key courtroom scenes are told in English. Sandra must tell her story in two languages, neither of which are her own: an already gravely-challenging situation given a new level of difficulty; a bombardment of inconveniences.
This is part of the film’s astuteness; language not only serves to communicate, but also heightens the sympathy felt towards a woman engaging in crucial conversations outside of her native language – in a land that is not home. These intricacies culminate in a character who is not always likeable, but undoubtedly human.
Huller delivers a deep-dive into a complex character’s being, her anatomy
Sandra Huller’s proficiency in her performance, her embodiment of a character not worlds away from the anti-hero, is formidable. As ambiguous as her involvement in the fall of her husband may be, Huller delivers a deep-dive into a complex character’s being, her anatomy. The audience’s knowledge of her guilt isn’t what counts, it’s the understanding that she is a mother and a human being above anything else.
Milo Machado Graner, who plays Daniel, her son blinded in a childhood accident, is also a standout. I found the film’s most emotional moments often resulted from seeing his perspective, a boy who has lost his father and faces a gruelling battle not to lose his mother. The interactions between Daniel and Sandra, as well as the dog, Messi, offer a deeply authentic performance of family, and what people will do to the people they love, both out of love and hate.
the setting acts throughout as another protagonist, a crucial component to the narrative
I don’t believe Anatomy would be the same, though, without the solitary beauty of the French Alps. Cinematographer Simon Beaufils perfectly captures the heart of the surrounding countryside, and the central lodging which features crucially both in the early tragedy and its conclusion, both as a vibrant and desolate location, but never an uninteresting one. It’s a testament to the cinematography that the setting acts throughout as another protagonist, a crucial component to the narrative.
Films like Anatomy are a great advert for international film, both in the blissful magnitude of their settings and the negotiation of different cultures throughout. Triest’s screenplay could’ve been a cliché, uninspiring tale of woe and heartache told many times before; a typical ‘court-room-drama’. And yet the fire at its authentic, anxious, human heart makes it one of the most significant films in recent memory.
Featured image courtesy of Alex Watkin. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.
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