The HoloFiles

REVIEW: Anatomy of a Fall

By George Bate & Josh Bate

Anatomy of a Fall review

Murder mysteries in the vein of Agatha Christie typically involve a detective figure inspecting clues and investigating a host of suspects to identify a murderous culprit among many. Anatomy of a Fall is a murder mystery, but takes a far more cerebral and confined approach to its central mystery. As opposed to numerous suspects, whose guilt remains uncertain, the winner of this year’s Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival is a murder mystery with a single suspect. A core question lies at its center – did a woman kill her husband? Despite the simplicity of this core question, Anatomy of a Fall proves to be one of the year’s most enthralling and contemplative films.

Anatomy of a Fall comes from director Justine Triet, who co-wrote the screenplay with her partner Arthur Harari. Triet is a French filmmaker, who has previously helmed the acclaimed films Age of Panic, In Bed with Victoria, and Sibyl. Triet’s latest work follows German actress Sandra Hüller as Sandra Voyter, a novelist whose husband falls to his death at their snowy family chalet in Grenoble, France. Questions soon arise regarding Sandra’s possible culpability in her husband Daniel’s death, sparking an investigation and a courtroom battle in which the embattled novelist tries to prove her innocence.

Triet’s film, similar to many murder mysteries, begins with a murder that sparks a chain of events encompassing the narrative of the movie. At first, things seem rather simple. However, as layer upon layer of the relationship between the husband and wife is revealed, and details about their individual and collective issues rise to the surface, the simple question at the core of the film becomes infinitely more complex.

Anatomy of a Fall review

Anatomy of a Fall effectively makes the audience a fly on the wall during these proceedings, fostered in part by a number of shots and camera movements reminiscent of more raw and documentary filmmaking. After an intense opening few moments lapse, which conclude with the death of Sandra’s husband Daniel (played by Milo Machado-Graner), the viewer is left to contemplate Sandra’s guilt. A script filled with twists and turns means the audience is left to constantly flick back and forth between believing in Sandra’s guilt and believing in her innocence during the film’s bulky yet earned runtime. The immersive and enthralling nature of Anatomy of a Fall comes about as a result of this position of deliberation the filmmakers assign to the audience. Is Sandra guilty or not? One moment, her guilt seems so certain. Then, mere moments later, things seem far more complicated.

After a first act characterized by the titular fall and its aftermath, Triet’s film evolves into an anatomical examination of, not just a death, but a relationship. Carefully placed flashbacks and methodically included revelations provide gradual insight into the nuanced relationship between Sandra and Daniel Voyter. Intricately examining this complex intimate relationship would prove interesting enough, but encase it within a murder mystery and the proceedings become all the more captivating.

At the heart of the film is Sandra Hüller, the acclaimed German actress who previously performed in the 2006 drama Requiem and also appears in this year’s Holocaust drama The Zone of Interest. The film opens with Hüller’s Sandra Voyter character being interviewed at her home about her literary career. With just a few lines back and forth with this interviewer that would seldom leave an impression in the hands of most actors, Hüller establishes an intrigue and tension from the film’s very beginning. More broadly, much of the film’s effectiveness as a twisty murder mystery can be attributed to the intricacy of Hüller’s performance. As sides of her identity as a writer, mother, and partner are progressively revealed, Hüller brings an uncanny authenticity to a performance that is among the best of the year.

With Hüller in the lead, much of Anatomy of a Fall unfolds as a courtroom drama. And while the back-and-forth between prosecution and defense is razor sharp and the insights into French legal proceedings prove fascinating for outsiders, there ultimately isn’t much particularly novel about the bulk of Triet’s film. The mystery and resultant courtroom proceedings are admittedly compelling and yet are certainly not the first of their kind. Similarly, the careful examination of an intimate relationship, while fascinating and gripping, is also not particularly distinctive from other works. The most apt comparison is the HBO miniseries The Staircase, which was based on the true story of a writer accused of murdering his wife, who was found dead at the bottom of a staircase. If that sounds eerily similar to the plot of Anatomy of a Fall, it’s because it is. And, not to slight Triet’s film, but it must be said that the depth of the acclaimed eight episode mini-series dwarfs that of Anatomy of a Fall.

VERDICT: 8.5/10

Anatomy of a Fall trades the classic structure of an Agatha Christie whodunit in favor of a more intimate and cerebral murder mystery. With a script filled to the brim with twists and turns, the film excels as it plays with audience expectations, capitalizes on uncertainty, and has one constantly guessing about the lead character’s guilt. Director and co-writer Justine Triet’s film lacks novelty and bears more than a few resemblances to the HBO mini-series The Staircase, and yet it is still undoubtedly engrossing as both a mystery and an examination of an intimate relationship. Anchored by an authentic and engrossing performance by Sandra Hüller, Anatomy of a Fall is a captivating, albeit conventional, movie.

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