Anatomy of a Fall is a riveting courtroom drama about guilt and innocence and what’s involved in trying to get at the truth.
Sandra Huller stars in the film as a successful German novelist on trial for her husband’s (Samuel Theis) death; he is either a suicide or a murder victim, and trying to establish which is a tense and intriguing journey.
It’s a decidedly feminist film, and the beauty of its construction is an exquisite ambiguity that never falters. Did he jump? Was he pushed?
Director Justin Triet, 45, co-wrote the screenplay for Anatomy of a Fall with her partner, filmmaker Arthur Harari. The lead role was written specifically for Huller. In a recent TIFF interview, Triet said that viewers of the movie draw their own conclusion as to whether Huller’s character is guilty or innocent.
“It’s really divided. And it’s interesting. Some people say she’s guilty, some say she’s innocent. It’s about 50-50 since the film was released.”
Much of a viewer’s opinion is formed by a complicated argument between husband and wife in Anatomy of a Fall. It’s the heart of the film in some ways, and Triet, who has said in the past that film for her is all about the dialogue, called that scene the most complex of all to write.
“At the core of what they are negotiating is the question of reciprocity. This is a couple that has the same craft, they’re both writers. In the story, there’s something contemporary, or modern, in their attempt to keep checks and balances and a sort of parity.
“She is a woman who makes no excuses for her success, does not ask for permission, who claims the space and affirms the space she’s taking, sometimes with the consequence of making her husband feel crushed. And of course, he’s a little bit less successful than she is.”
What has sparked the crisis, added Triet — who herself has two children with Harari — is the question of child-rearing, “And the distribution of time around that, which further complicates the question of their reciprocity.”
The couple in Anatomy Of A Fall has one son, an adolescent who is visually impaired. The family also has a dog who has a role to play.
With no eyewitnesses, the story is built around what Triet called “missing pictures”.
“And the boy is like the audience, he misses some things. There’s a relay of unknowing between the child and the dog — the child who can speak but cannot see, and the dog who saw but cannot speak — all of that sort of fostering uncertainty for the spectator, which for me was central to making the film I wanted to make.
“Had I delivered a well constructed twist ending, after playing with the spectator’s nerves for the entirety of the film, it would have been an entirely different type of project.”
Triet graduated from the Paris National School of Fine Arts and found success as a filmmaker almost immediately, winning awards for her short films, Sur Place and Two Ships, and for her first feature, Age of Panic (2013).
She again won several awards for the features Victoria (2016), which stars Virginie Efira, and Sibyl (2019), which stars Efira and Sandra Huller.
In May at the Cannes film festival, Anatomy of a Fall won the top prize, the Palme d’Or; expect to see the film (as well as Huller and Triet) front and centre as this year’s awards season ramps up in the fall.