ANATOMY OF A FALL – Review by Loren King

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The title Anatomy of a Fall, not to mention the striking US poster graphic of a prone body, brings to mind Otto Preminger’s 1959 film Anatomy of a Murder and Saul Bass’s iconic poster art. Although Anatomy of a Fall is just as riveting a courtroom drama, it’s an unconventional one. Director and co-writer Justine Triet keeps the viewer engaged but off-kilter and she adroitly layers surprises and ambiguity. That’s just right for a film about what’s heard but not seen; the fine line between reality and fiction; how memory might not be trusted; and how two people can recall the same events with shaded perceptions.

The film is anchored by a masterful performance from Sandra Hüller as a successful novelist named Sandra who is charged with the murder of her husband Samuel after he’s discovered dead, with a gash in his skull, on the snowy ground beneath a window of the couple’s chalet in the Alps. Did Sandra strike him, or push him, or did he fall or jump? It’s their blind young son Daniel (Milo Machado Graner) who discovers his father’s body and must testify in his mother’s trial. There are shades of the documentary and HBO series The Staircase in the forensics about telltale blood splatters and a phantom weapon and in the airing of a couple’s most private fights and differences.

A pivotal moment comes with the public playing of a recording Samuel secretly made during a particularly vitriolic argument with Sandra the night before he died. Triet cuts between the courtroom tension and the actual argument between Sandra and Samuel which is as intense and intimate as Scenes from a Marriage.

Hüller is best known for her unforgettable comic performance in Maren Ade’s 2016 hit Toni Erdmann. Her satiric performance as a film director was the highlight of Sibyl (2019), another film she made with Triet. But Anatomy of a Fall, along with the highly anticipated The Zone of Interest, should cement Hüller as a major international star and catapult her to a host of year-end acting honors.

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Loren King

Loren King's features and film reviews appear regularly in the Boston Globe, Boston Spirit magazine and the Provincetown Banner. She writes Scene Here, a localfilm column, in the Boston Sunday Globe. A member of the Boston Society of Film Critics since 2002, she served as its president for five years.