The French have always had a penchant for courtroom dramas, and they excel at crafting them, as demonstrated by Alice Diop’s “Saint Omer” last year. Justine Triet’s film follows in that tradition, presenting a fiercely intelligent and deceptively playful drama that uses the genre as a Trojan horse to explore the sudden disintegration of an ordinary family.
The story takes place in a snowy chalet in the French Alps, where Sandra, a renowned German writer, resides with her French husband Samuel (Samuel Theis). During an interview with a young PhD student, which focuses on Sandra’s literary works, their meeting is abruptly interrupted by Samuel, who starts blaring a cover version of 50 Cent’s “P.I.M.P” from the upstairs, incessantly repeating it.
Overwhelmed by the noise, the student agrees to reschedule the interview. As she departs, she encounters the couple’s young son Daniel (Milo Machado Graner), who is visually impaired and accompanied by his dog Snoop on a walk.
These seemingly insignificant details resurface later in the plot, revealing their relevance. Returning from his walk, Daniel discovers the lifeless body of his father, who has fallen from the attic window. Inconclusive autopsy reports and signs of severe head trauma lead the police to treat the death as suspicious.
To defend herself, Sandra hires Vincent (Swann Arlaud), a lawyer who also happens to be an old friend, although the nature of their connection remains unexplored. Vincent stresses to Sandra that she is now under investigation and that her version of events lacks credibility. Sandra vehemently maintains her innocence, but evidence starts mounting against her, including a secret recording made by Samuel without her knowledge. This pivotal scene, depicted in flashback, reveals Sandra’s hidden temper as a seemingly mundane domestic dispute escalates into ugly and venomous violence.
In court, Sandra faces cross-examination from a razor-sharp prosecutor (Antoine Reinartz), exposing her deepest secrets: her bisexuality, infidelity, and potential plagiarism of her late husband’s unfinished novel. The trial unfolds like a script meeting, delving into plot points and motivations, deconstructing the twists and turns as we witness them unfolding.
The real blow comes when Sandra’s own novels are used against her, featuring a character who fantasizes about murdering her husband and a past quote where Sandra told a journalist, “My job is to cover the tracks so that fiction can destroy reality.”
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Is Sandra skillfully muddying the waters to escape justice due to insufficient evidence? Fortunately, “Anatomy of a Fall” doesn’t leave viewers bereft of satisfaction; it provides a compelling resolution.
Simultaneously, the film ingeniously remains unsatisfying in a subtle and slyly Hitchcockian manner, questioning the very concept of “satisfaction” within the context of a murder trial. At its core lies Hüller’s exceptional performance, an enthralling and emotionally charged tour de force that.