Sunday, January 28, 2024

Anatomie d'une chute


German novelist Sandra Voyter (Sandra Hüller) is being interviewed by a student in her Grenoble home when Samuel Maleski (Samuel Theis), her husband, begins playing disruptively loud music from their attic that effectively cuts the interview short. Their blind son Daniel (Milo Machado-Graner) goes out for a walk with his Border Collie and later finds his father’s dead body on the snow when he comes back. As mother and son call an ambulance for what seems to be an accidental fall, the police enter the picture and an investigation begins with Sandra as the main suspect. As the prosecution presents evidence after evidence that what occurred might have been premeditated murder, the couple’s marriage and dirty laundry are displayed for an entire jury to dissect. Did he kill himself? Did she? Or was it an accident? Those are the questions, but the answers are simply too hard to come by.

While the French justice system serves a verdict at the end of the movie, the elephant in the room which is whether Sandra pushed her husband off their attic window or not is left wide open for debate. Maybe that’s what makes Anatomy of a Fall all the more intriguing. It is that kind of film that you just want to discuss right and long after you’ve seen it. True enough, its subreddit is on fire with plenty of opinions that are either Team Suicide or Team Homicide, although seemingly leaning more toward the former. Procedural narratives tend to be boring especially if the runtime is over two hours. Fortunately, this isn’t one of those.

But that isn’t to say that this film has zero chance of boring you. We don’t even see the husband jumping or getting pushed off the attic window. We just flash forward to his bloody cadaver on the snow. Much of the action you will see here are not really actions per se but rather an emotionally-fueled exchange of lines in a court hearing. As such, what will keep you watching is the intriguing premise as well as the acting which has already been praised all over from Hüller herself to Machado-Graner. Even the dog actually won the Palm Dog Award at Cannes. In fairness to him, that Aspirin scene is a bit traumatic alright.

Another strength of the film is its ambiguity. Those who have seen it strictly as a procedural drama appear to have the tendency to believe that she is guilty if you base your conclusions on the forensic evidence and how it is presented in the courtroom. On the other hand, those who take into account other aspects of the narrative such as the marriage dynamics involved and focus on the couple’s personalities and conflicts seem to end up sympathizing with Sandra. In the end, there really is no conclusive answer because the director conveniently leaves that out to mess with our minds.

A lot more can be said but one thing I would like to point out is how the flashbacks seem to help in giving you a glimpse of what might have truly happened until you realize that they are being shown through the perspective of whoever is narrating them, and we can’t really be sure that either Sandra or Daniel is a reliable narrator. At all. One flashback in particular that is quite intriguing is that scene where Samuel and Daniel are driving to the vet. While it is the father’s mouth that is moving, it is the son’s voice that we hear, which makes you want to question whether it really happened or it is just a false memory.

But then again there are those who argue that maybe the truth as to whether she is guilty or not is not really the film’s point after all. Perhaps what the writer wanted us to witness is a crumbling marriage that just happens to be complicated even more by an unfortunate incident. In a way, my first impression of Anatomy of a Fall while watching it was that of an alternate version of Marriage Story if one of them died instead of the two of them getting a divorce. Both films have similar themes and are both brilliantly acted. The only difference is that this movie is basically a solo effort with Hüller giving you a masterclass in acting.

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