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Review 'Anatomy of a Fall': Beyond the Trial, the Revelation of the Human Condition

By Sandra M Ríos U
X: @sandritamrios

Exploring the intricate plot of this film and its focus on family dynamics.

Justine Triet, interested in family and romantic relationships, especially in how the characters deal with their personal and relationship conflicts and how they balance their professional and intimate lives, sometimes with a touch of humor, premiered her most complex and elaborate story in her filmography this year, the legal drama "Anatomy of a Fall."

Triet won the Palme d'Or, the highest prize at the Cannes Film Festival, becoming the third woman to receive this recognition in the festival's 76-year history.

I've been married for 23 years, and I still get surprised by stories my husband shares with me, and I don't remember him telling me before. I jokingly tell he's "Pandora's box." Perhaps, for some, this might be a reason for mistrust, but I take it with humor and even with some fascination. Twenty-three years later, I'm still discovering events, memories, and details about the person I chose as my life partner. Justine Triet said that she used the legal drama in this film as an excuse to talk about something that interests her: the intimate history of a family, not only in the relationship between spouses but also in the relationship between mother and son, emphasizing the idea that one never truly knows people, no matter how close or blood-related the bond may be. Hence, my anecdote.

"Anatomy of a Fall" begins with a tragedy. Sandra and Vincent have decided to live apart from everything for a year, in an attempt for him to resume writing his long-frustrated dream of publishing a book. She, on the other hand, is a successful novelist. They are parents to an 11-year-old son with partial blindness due to an accident. The child is another reason for their decision to isolate themselves. One morning, Sandra receives a student who wants to interview her as part of her postgraduate work, while Vincent remains locked in the attic with loud hip-hop music by 50 Cent's "P.I.M.P." blaring, showing a clear lack of interest in the interview with his partner. Their son has gone for a walk with the dog. Sandra goes up to check on him. Minutes later, her husband and father of her son is found dead at the entrance of the house, with a severe head injury and a pool of blood staining the pure white snow.

This is where the story, or rather, the ordeal for its protagonist, begins. The forensic evidence at the scene is inconclusive, leaving doubt as to whether Vincent jumped from the attic or was thrown, and of course, the prime suspect is the writer. She must then go to trial to prove her innocence with the other witness: her own son.

Triet guides the story along two narrative lines: the application of justice in a case where the pieces of evidence are ambiguous and adapt to the interpretation of the parties involved, and the meticulous and uncomfortable dissection of a marriage where one party is no longer there to affirm, refute, or defend, and where, as if that were not enough, the most intimate aspects of a well-known character become public and are heard by the son.

With this situation, the drama constructs the pieces of a death in an exasperating game of trying to find a culprit, so any minor events in the minutes before are almost seen as confirmatory of a crime, putting the protagonist in a tight spot. She must defend herself, and she apparently feels calm doing so, but she must do it in her partner's language, in French, while she is German. This is another obstacle that this woman must overcome throughout a tortuous and exhausting trial.

There comes a point where Triet abandons the conventions of legal dramas where the focus is on the trial itself and the portrayal of lawyers and judges with lengthy and brilliant dialogues, and instead concentrates on the family drama. Here, we discover the dark themes of a marriage in crisis and the cruelty it represents for a pre-adolescent to learn things and face situations about their parents that he would never want to know. This moral dilemma and how to handle it in a young person add more tragic elements to the story, considering how the justice system believes it should carry out its investigative work, often overlooking aspects like sensitivity or the age of its witnesses.

"Anatomy of a Fall" is an intense drama (which doesn't necessarily mean it's fast-paced; quite the opposite) filled with multiple, complex layers. Triet masterfully portrays how everything is relative: love and its transformation over the years, relationships, conflicts within relationships, idealization of parents, and justice itself. In this sense, this film is akin to the fantastic and equally complex "Saint Omer" by the French director Alice Diop. In both films, the trial takes a back seat, and the focus shifts to the essence of being human, where light and shadow coexist without hiding.

This is a film supported by a brilliant script and outstanding performances. The German actress Sandra Hüller (known for "Toni Erdman") inhabits her character and delivers one of her best performances in her already distinguished career. The same goes for Vincent, played by Swann Arlaud, and the son, Daniel, portrayed by Milo Machado-Graner, who tackles a character with physical and emotional challenges that required extensive work with the director. There is so much acting here that even the family dog gets a pivotal moment in the climax of the events, in one of the most distressing scenes in the film, earning the pet the "Palm Dog Award" at Cannes.

At the Viennale in Austria, Justine Triet talked about what she hopes the audience extract from the film: "I would like them to appreciate the fact that they've spent a short period of their lives with these people. I hope they've grown fond of them a bit and that they feel lost in their judgments and that they keep trying to understand them after the screening. Lastly, I hope they can recognize themselves in some of them." The director's wish is perfectly fulfilled, considering how quick humans are to judge.

Some might complain about the 152-minute runtime, but I never felt it. It was, fortunately, a part of the French Film Festival, and I hope it makes it to regular theaters.

Technical Information

Image Credits: Les Films Pelléas – Les Films de Pierre

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