After winning the prestigious Palme d’Or award at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, Anatomy of a Fall was catapulted to one of many’s most anticipated releases of the year. The French language film is a long, captivating courtroom drama that leaves you leaning in, caught on every word, examining each detail and unburying ugly truths in the lead character Sandra Voyter’s (Sandra Hüller) life in the name of ‘justice’… but can any of this be described as that?
Plot-wise, it utilises a universal storytelling method of ‘Simple Story, Complex Characters’. After someone is found dead, the film follows the court case trying to determine if it was indeed an accident or pre-meditated murder.
With the popularity of true crime, people have never been more familiar with every gruesome detail of some of the worst crimes in recent history, with documentaries, dramatisations, and news coverage often treating it as nothing more than gossip. It always seems to sensationalise disturbing acts, compartmentalising them into binge-able bite-sized pieces of content.
Of course, morbid curiosity is a powerful thing, something that Anatomy of a Fall writers Justine Triet (who also directs) and Arthur Harari play into masterfully. The tight script does an excellent job of presenting events in a way that leaves you to draw your own conclusions, never telling you what to feel, and exploring the sheer impact all of this has on everyone’s lives and relationships. Even during all of the high-stakes scenes, as Sandra goes through the arduous legal process, the film never falls into melodrama, which is another testament to the strength of the script.
Discussion and dissection
Leaving the screening at the Belfast Film Festival was fascinating, hearing people debate and discuss if they think the Jury made the right decision, with two people using the same scene as evidence of completely contrasting points. I love this film discussion and dissection when it’s fictional characters, examining the storytelling, rather than discussing real victims on say, a true crime podcast.
Grief, humour, turmoil
Sandra Hüller gives a powerhouse performance, going through multiple stages of grief, humour, turmoil, and love sometimes in a single look. She is having a knockout year, with this and Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest, cementing her as one of the best performers working today.
Throughout the whole courtroom process, as witnesses come to speak, the film highlights the ‘dehumanisation’ that people in the eye of a very public trial can experience, seeing them less as a human being and more projecting their own biases of them being a monster/saint/innocent/guilty etc.
There’s a quote from the end of the film that haunts me, from not only the words but Hüller’s performance, and it can only be felt having seen the two-hour journey that proceeds it. The whole cast helps to fully realise this world, completely engrossing you for the entire runtime. Special mention goes to the rising young talent Milo Machado Graner, who has an incredibly promising future that I cannot wait to watch. Swann Arlaud is also superb and Samuel Theis, in little more than one or two scenes, embodies such a well-rounded character you can’t help but be enamoured by it.
If I were to be so self-indulgent and use legal jargon I have solely picked up from films and have no right using, then I would like to offer my final testimony to the jury, you may read a number of reviews for Anatomy of a Fall, some perhaps prosecuting, others defending… While I cannot speak to everyones’ tastes, this film will leave you guessing, asking if you’ve been lied to and actively pursuing the truth, making you a detective in the midst of a difficult family drama.
Following any leads or trail of breadcrumbs you can, which all leads to an ending so satisfying the 2hr30min trip is absolutely worth the investment. Some scenes feel so personal and private you’ll want to look away and it only highlights the impact of similar stories in the real world and the toxic ‘true crime’ atmosphere that suffocates it.
If you would like to see all of the evidence for yourself, Anatomy of a Fall is still playing in cinemas.