Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Anatomy of a Fall: A Review



It is said that there is more than one side to a story. Anatomy of a Fall, is a well-crafted albeit long film that peels the layers off a potential crime.

An interview between noted author Sandra Voyter (Sandra Huller) and a student is drowned out by music from her husband Samuel Maleski (Samuel Theis). Their visually impaired son Daniel (Milo Machado-Graner) takes a walk in the woods near the Swiss chalet they are staying at. When he returns with his guide dog Snoop, Daniel finds Samuel laying dead on the ground.

What happened to Samuel? Did he accidentally fall, as Sandra initially says to her friend and attorney, Vincent Renzi (Swann Arlaud)? The police do not think it was an accident, especially since Daniel gives conflicting evidence about where he was in relation to his exact location. Sandra remembers Samuel had a previous suicide attempt which they kept hidden. No dice though, as Sandra is now charged with murder.

Did she kill Samuel? Evidence piles up against her. She had an affair with another woman a year before. She had also taken a plot from Samuel's long-gestating novel and crafted a bestseller. Sandra insists that Samuel knew about both and even encouraged the latter. Still, more circumstantial evidence mounts against Sandra. There is a recording of a fight between them, where we don't know who is hitting whom. Her novels could reflect her thoughts, but do those involve killing a man she still resents for being partially responsible for their son's disability?

Only the visually impaired witness can save her, but can he provide the key to solve the mystery?

If I find a fault in Anatomy of a Fall, it is in length. The film runs two hours and thirty two minutes long, and I think that will test more than a few viewers' patience and endurance. It is not exactly a flaw in director Justine Triet's screenplay (cowritten with Arthur Harari). I can see how Anatomy of a Fall builds its case so to speak, in a calm and deliberate manner. 

However, perhaps in this case, it is too calm and deliberate. I found that the film did not pick up interest until we got to the trial. Here are Huller's best moments, where she again in a calm but firm manner attempts to defend herself from the verbal barbs from the Prosecutor (Antoine Reinartz). Throughout the film, Huller is excellent as the besieged Sandra because she does not become histrionic. She does show emotion: anger when we see her fighting with Samuel. For the most part, Huller plays Sandra in a calm but firm manner: aware of the situation but not giving into despair. 

She also has the advantage of acting in at least two languages. Anatomy of a Fall establishes that English is the middle ground between the primarily German-speaking Samuel and primarily French-speaking Sandra. As such, Huller speaks mostly in English, at least at one point stating that the translation from English to French does not accurately state what she said. I do not remember if she also spoke German, but it would fit. This element is used well in Anatomy of a Fall, where Sandra becomes openly flustered at her struggle to make herself understood in French. 

Huller is well-matched by the other cast members large and small. Arlaud is methodical as Sandra's attorney/friend, able to parry with the Prosecutor while being blunt with Sandra about her chances. Reinartz's Prosecutor is sharp and cutting, able to effectively slice her defense with almost malicious glee. Of all the other performances, it is Machado-Graner that holds our attention as Daniel. An innocent who is also wary of people, caught in a terrible situation, he sorts as best he can through this tangled web.

Anatomy of a Fall is a fine film, though I wish it were shorter. Overall, it is a strong film with strong performances, though I would recommend an intermission for the viewer. 

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