Review | Anatomy of a Fall | 2023

It's been a long time since we've seen a courtroom drama as gripping, vital, and as emotionally astute as Justine Triet's Palme d'Or winner, Anatomy of a Fall. Accused of murdering her husband after he is found dead in the snow from an apparent fall from the third story balcony of their remote home in the French Alps, Sandra Voter (Sandra Hüller) is put on trial faced with the seemingly impossible task of convincing a jury that he had in fact committed suicide.

The only witness is the couple's blind son, Daniel (Milo Machado-Graner) who's emotional state becomes increasingly tenuous as the trial unearths painful revelations about his parents' marriage and his father's mental health. As the only other person present, it falls to him to shed light on the truth, leading him to make painful choices that will have a seismic impact on the course of both their lives.

Over the course of two and a half hours, Triet takes us through a harrowing trial that puts the audience directly in the jury box, pulling our loyalties back and forth and making us question reality and interrogate our preconceived notions at every turn. She masterfully navigates the legal tete-a-tete between the prosecution and the defense, examining how bias and assumption can shift perception of the exact same events from the outside looking in. And sometimes, how it can shift from the inside - as a husband and wife grapple with a rocky marriage from two very different perspectives. In such a heightened emotional state, can either side fully understand the truth? 

Sandra Hüller delivers an absolutely devastating performance - is she a murderer? A woman at the end of her rope? A victim of circumstance? We never really know for sure, and that's part of what makes Anatomy of a Fall so fascinating. Triet presents the evidence and lets us make up our own mind - her crackerjack screenplay (co-written by Arthur Harari) humming with raw and rare kind of emotional honesty. She uses sound design and perspective to suggest what's real and what isn't, but even then, do the things we know are lies and fabrications exonerate or condemn Sandra? 

It's a deeply perceptive study of the very concept of reasonable doubt, and how arriving at "truth" when so many perspectives are involved can be all but impossible, even for those involved. Anatomy of a Fall a masterclass from start to finish; the courtroom scenes make up some of the most riveting cinema in recent memory, but it's the scenes of martial strife at home that really linger. The ways in which couples zero in on each other's insecurities seemingly innocuous disagreements hits especially hard. But Triet reminds us that we're merely observers, seeing a few minutes of a much larger relationship - can we truly judge what's going on here from just a brief glimpse of two hurt people at their most vulnerable? Ultimately, the tagline "did she do it?" matters far less than the unnerving impactions at how humans convince themselves of what the truth is. No other film this year has asked questions so powerful or left doubts so haunting. 

GRADE - ★★★★ (out of four)

ANATOMY OF A FALL | Directed by Justine Triet | Stars Sandra Hüller, Swann Arlaud, Milo Machado-Graner, Antoine Reinartz | Rated R for some language, sexual references and violent images  | In French and English with English subtitles | Now playing in select theaters.


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