ANATOMY OF A FALL
Starring: Sandra Hüller, Swann Arlaud, Milo Machado-Graner, Antoine Reinartz, Samuel Theis, and Jehnny Beth
Director: Justine Triet
I'm still in awe of what Anatomy of a Fall pulled off. Co-writer/director Justine Triet crafted a mystery/courtroom procedural that needed every single moment to work or else it would fall apart. I can’t believe she pulled it off. Everything we learn about the case, we learn through Sandra Hüller's character, and Hüller is more than up to the task, giving a breathtaking performance. For a film that's mostly dialogue, the two-and-a-half-hour runtime breezes by, and by the end, the portrait of dysfunctional domestic relationships stays with you as you question everything you've been told. A true work of art.
Anatomy of a Fall is a riveting courtroom drama that is subtle and brilliant all at once, featuring sharp dialogue and a thought-provoking story that will keep you guessing throughout. While Sandra Hüller (Sandra) delivers a gripping performance, it’s the boy who plays her son, Daniel (Milo Machado-Graner), that is the true standout in my eyes. I was truly blown away by his performance. But, even with all of that, the film’s real beauty is that it allows its audience to determine its true outcome, which will have you thinking about it long after it’s over.
While I admit it’s complex and layered, Anatomy of a Fall is also way too long, way too wordy (in French), and way too dry for me to call it anything more than just above okay. The court scenes are relatively well done, especially in the way director Justine Triet shifts perspectives during testimonies, but the overall, matter-of-fact vibe harkens back to something like The People’s Court in the 80s. Also, the mystery just isn’t that compelling. I never really had an opinion as to whether Sandra (Sandra Hüller) committed the murder or not, which means the ending lands unsatisfyingly. It’s probably for Oscar-hounds only.
With Anatomy of a Fall, director Justine Triet has crafted one of the most authentic fictional trials I've ever seen on screen. Triet never shows her cards, which leaves you unsure how you want things to go, but also makes Antoine Reinartz's prosecutor so relentless that you can't help but feel for Sandra Hüller's character. The performances are solid across the board and will likely lead to accolades (for Hüller, especially), but the proceedings do feel a little long in the tooth. When all was said and done, I was left with tons of respect for the film, but not the adoration I had hoped to have.
Director Justine Triet envelops Anatomy of a Fall with a kind of emotionless execution similar to death’s cold, unfeeling nature. The score is damn near non-existent, the cinematography is documentary-like, and the dialogue is blunt and unyielding. Usually, such a lack of emotion is a film’s downfall, but here, the detached way the audience experiences the story only intensifies its thrilling premise. So, when passion is sporadically jolted into this uniquely dispassionate film, the resulting 150-minute see-saw of emotion is one you can’t help but watch with non-stop, heart-pounding fervor, generating one of the year’s most interesting films.
While the performances in Anatomy of a Fall are undeniably impressive, I found the film to be a little too understated for my liking. I enjoyed the cold, oppressive atmosphere that director Justine Triet brought to the courtroom scenes, but the mystery at the heart of the trial never fully managed to grip me. The film’s view of the proceedings felt clinical and far removed, treating the audience as bystanders, never letting us get too close to the characters. While I can admire that subtlety, I can’t deny that the lack of emotion occasionally left Anatomy feeling hollow.
This film was reviewed by Adriano and Paige as part of Bitesize Breakdown's coverage of the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival and the 2023 New York Film Festival, respectively.