When her husband Samuel is mysteriously found dead in the snow below their secluded chalet, Sandra becomes the main suspect when the police begin to question whether he fell
or was pushed. The trial soon becomes not just an investigation, but a gripping psychological journey into the depths of Sandra and Samuel's complicated marriage. With conflicting evidence and inconsistent testimony, words are wielded like weapons and shocking truths come to light in this thrilling Palme d’Or winner.
The Garden Cinema View:
Depending on which appendage of the French legal system we listen to in Anatomy of a Fall, trials are intended to establish the truth, or are not really anything to do with truth. At a certain point in Justine Triet’s Palme d’Or winning film, the narrative fulcrum switches from an objective search for facts to a subjective demand to authorise a version of events with which characters and viewers alike can believe in. As with Alice Diop’s recent Saint Omer, a cinema court hearing can be as much about finding a point of empathy with the accused as it is about justice. As Sandra’s (Hüller) young son sagely declares, ‘When we’ve looked everywhere but still don’t understand how the thing happened, I think we have to ask why it happened.’
Anatomy of a Fall is a game of mirrors, memory, and, in particular, language. The aggressive and performative legalise spouted by prosecution and defence butts against Sandra’s ability to manipulate (and her struggle with) the cracks between the three languages she speaks – to varying degrees of proficiency. Such verbal sparring is wrapped in layer on layer of audio recording, video reconstruction, excerpts from Sandra’s autofiction, and competing forensic and psychological analyses. Triet deftly manoeuvres her camera within both the claustrophobic courtroom and the idyllic Alps – so often a setting of transgression, crime, and disputed truth in contemporary French cinema (La Syndacaliste, The Five Devils, and The Night of the 12th being some examples from the past year). And whilst we might have awarded the Palme to the other great Sandra Hüller film of Cannes 2023 (Zone of Interest), Anatomy of a Fall is taut, gripping, and impressively elusive.
Sandra Hüller, Swann Arlaud, Milo Machado-Graner, Antoine Reinartz