ANATOMY OF A FALL (Melbourne IFF 2023) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

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To anyone who was paying even the most cursory attention to Justine Triet’s career – particularly her 2019 film Sibyl – that she was working her way towards winning the revered Palme d’Or at Cannes comes as absolutely no surprise. Only the third woman to win the award after Jane Campion and Julia Ducournau, with Anatomy of a Fall, Triet is revealed as a filmmaker going from strength to strength.

While in many ways Sibyl exchanges its hot erotic core for something far more domestic and polite in Triet’s latest, both films at their heart focus on women trapped in challenging marriages with complicated relationships with their children, and both tell the stories of women caught in the flux of periods of enormous transition.

Just as Sibyl was built on a clearly intense, intimate relationship between Triet and her star Virgine Efira, so too Anatomy of a Fall finds her working incredibly closely with Sandra Hüller (Huller, of course, had appeared in Sibyl too, but in a much smaller role). Anatomy of a Fall centers on Hüller’s Sandra, a novelist who lives in the snowy French Alps with her writer husband Samuel (Samuel Theis) and their visually impaired son Daniel (Milo Machado-Graner).

Struggling both financially and personally after the accident that damaged Daniel’s sight, when Samuel is suddenly found dead outside of their home, their private lives become extremely public as Sandra is put on trial for Samuel’s murder. With the support of her old friend and lawyer Vincent (Swann Arlaud), Sandra finds herself both in a fight for her life and a battle to maintain her son’s love and trust.

On the surface, Anatomy of a Fall has all the trappings of the familiar courtroom drama – the bulk of its actions center on what happens in court, and most of the twists and turns stem from revelations made by witnesses when provoked by lawyers. But Triet injects the familiar courtroom-set legal thriller with something uniquely and powerfully her own; the tension in Anatomy of a Fall is at times so intense that it is almost impossible to describe, as is the feeling throughout the film that some things – and some people – are simply unknowable.

Of these, most enigmatic of course is Sandra herself, who, when brought to life by an actor of Hüller’s caliber, remains as impenetrable and inscrutable as she is ultimately extraordinarily human. Both in front and behind the camera, Anatomy of a Fall is a film made by two women in particular who are simply at the top of their game, and neither Hüller nor Triet show any signs of slowing down.

NOTE: Without actors and writers, we wouldn’t have movies. This review was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes, and the author of this review supports them unequivocally.

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Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Alexandra Heller-Nicholas is a multi-award-winning film critic and author who has published nine books on cult, horror and exploitation cinema with an emphasis on gender politics, including the 2020 book ‘1000 Women in Horror, 1898-2018’ which was included on Esquire Magazine’s list of the best 125 books written about Hollywood. Alexandra is a contributing editor at Film International, a columnist at Fangoria, an Adjunct Professor at Deakin University, and a member of the advisory board of the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies (LA, NYC, London).