MOVIE OF THE WEEK October 13, 2023: ANATOMY OF A FALL

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Justine Triet‘s engrossing French family drama/courtroom thriller Anatomy of a Fall expertly explores the subjectivity of memory and the complexity of marriage and parenthood. As the woman at the center of it all, Sandra Huller commands the screen, turning in a performance that’s by turns fierce, vulnerable, and calculated, ultimately raising as many questions as she answers about her character’s role in the titular fall and the events leading up to it.

Huller plays a writer, also named Sandra, whose husband, Samuel (Samuel Theis), is found dead in the snow outside their remote chalet by the couple’s nearly blind tween son, Daniel (Milo Machado Graner) — apparently the victim of an accidental (or possibly self-inflicted) plunge out a third-story window from the attic he was in the midst of renovating. But autopsy reports and official investigations reveal details that suggest Samuel’s death could be suspicious. Sandra is eventually arrested for murder and put on trial, where troubling facts about their relationship come to light and experts debate the various theories surrounding the case.

And that’s just what they are — theories — because no one actually saw Samuel fall or was in the house with him and Sandra in the moments before his death. But the doubts that these guesses and conjectures raise in Daniel’s mind threaten his trust in his mother and reveal just how imperfect their family life was, even before Samuel’s death. Whether they’ll be able to recover is just as much of a mystery as the full truth of what happened to Samuel.

Triet — who also co-wrote the script with Arthur Harari — doesn’t provide easy answers in Anatomy of a Fall. This isn’t a courtroom drama with a surprise-witness twist or someone being goaded into abruptly confessing to a crime. Rather, it’s a thoughtful examination of the pressures we all face and how they can build up until we lash out at even those we love the most. And at the center of it all, Huller is a marvel. — Betsy Bozdech

Team #MOTW’s comments:

Pam Grady: 2023 is the year of Sandra Hüller with two films that premiered at Cannes demonstrating the breadth of her phenomenal talent. In Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest, she is the good Nazi wife, cheerfully building a life for her family right outside the walls of Auschwitz. Then, in this, Justine Triet’s Palme d’Or winner, she is a writer accused of murdering her husband. A German living in an alpine region of France, bisexual, and with a record of affairs – she is introduced flirting with a woman who is trying to interview her – the accusation that Hüller’s Sandra bopped her spouse on the head and then sent him hurtling out a top-floor window seems less predicated on evidence that that a crime was even committed than that she lives life on her own terms and her husband (also a writer, but a flailing one) found her “castrating.” Though framed largely as a courtroom drama in which the prosecution will go so far as to pressure Sandra’s 11-year-old son to testify against his mother, what emerges is a portrait of an unhappy marriage and a woman whose original sin was simply be herself.

Nell Minow: “Sometimes a couple is a kind of chaos and everybody is lost,” the widow who may have murdered her husband tries to explain. Anatomy of a Fall is not called Anatomy of a Marriage because as this comment indicates, writer/director Justine Triet is less interested in the Agatha Christie-style who did it than in the impossibility of analyzing a relationship from the outside, even, sometimes, from the inside. The chilly Grenoble location contrasts with our increasing understanding of how little we can understand, even as new details emerge.

Leslie Combemale Anatomy of a Fall is most fascinating in its representation of how women are demonized by succeeding, asking for what they want, and being uncompromising. Of the lead character, one of her defense lawyers says, “if she is guilty of anything, it’s of succeeding where her husband failed.” In Justine Triet’s fourth outing as director, she and co-screenwriter Arthur Harari create the character of Sandra as neither victim nor hero, but a woman full of faults and weaknesses, just like most people. It’s in the ways that she is perceived in court and by the public, however, that we see just how much her gender plays a factor.Read full review

Jennifer Merin Anatomy of a Fall is the very buzzed-about thriller/drama written and directed by Justine Triet and starring Sandra Huller. The narrative starts with a man falling from the third storey attic of a mountain top chalet to his death. He is discovered by his nearly-blind young son. The cause of the man’s fall is unknown and the ensuing police investigation results in his wife (Sandra Huller) being charged and put on trial for his murder. In courtroom sequences, in flashbacks and in intimate family scenes, Huller’s performance is galvanizingly electric. You simply cannot turn away. Not even for a moment. Hence the well-deserved Oscar buzz.

Sandie Angulo Chen: Anatomy of a Fall is a masterfully executed family drama featuring an award-worthy performance from German actor Sandra Huller. Director Juliet Triet’s story about a husband and father’s mysterious death is not only a courtroom drama that exposes the brutal truths about a marriage but also the intimacy of a mother and son trying to survive an unthinkable situation. Thought-provoking and atmospheric, this French-German-and-English-language movie stays with you long after the credits roll.

Loren King 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. Read full review

Liz Whittemore Milo Machado Graner’s performance as Daniel is breathtaking. His extraordinary attention to detail is mesmerizing. He is a star. Sandra Hüller’s ability to settle into a role is masterful. Her organic physicality and measured presence pull you into her plight. She is nothing short of beguiling. The film opens in an auditorily jarring manner as a cover version of PIMP blares during an interview with Sandra. Childhood photos during the opening credits establish an emotionally grounded authenticity. The camera work is creative and meticulous. Close-up shots are striking and meaningful in a way that crawls into your subconscious. A steady stream of information crumbs keeps the audience off-kilter. You will not know what the truth is until the very last frame. Anatomy of a Fall is one of the year’s most intriguing films.

Nikki Fowler: Justine Triet brings a compelling thought provoking thriller about a married couple, both of whom are authors. Anatomy of the Fall is intricate as viewers navigate the relationship complexities of a couple whose most intimate details are put on center stage, Sandra Hüller gives an extraordinary performance as a successful author whose art many times imitates life. Read full review.

Cate Marquis Director/writer Justine Triet’s gripping mystery/drama Anatomy of a Fall begins when a man falls to his death from his mountain-top chalet, with his body discovered by his partly-blind son, and suspicion quickly falling on his wife (Sandra Huller, from Toni Erdmann). In both French and English, Anatomy of a Fall spools out like a police drama and then a courthouse one, but it isn’t just the death that is under scrutiny but the couple’s marriage and events that occurred before that fall. Triet expertly keeps us constantly guessing and wondering if the death was murder, suicide or an accident, while the film builds up a portrait of their lives. Anatomy of a Fall is a intense, probing drama that won the Palm d’Or at Cannes and wows from critics and audiences alike.

FILM DETAILS:

Title: Anatomy of a Fall

Directors: Justine Triet

Release Date: October 13, 2023

Running Time: 150 minutes

Language: French with English subtitles

Screenwriters: Justine Triet and Arthur Harari

Distribution Company: NEON Rated

AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Nikki Fowler, Pam Grady, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sherin Nicole, Liz Whittemore

Previous #MOTW Selections

Other Movies Opening This Week

Edited by Jennifer Merin

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and About.com. She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).