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  • Writer's picturePaul Gainey

Anatomy of a Fall

French filmmaker Justine Triet’s breathtaking new film Anatomy of a Fall unpicks the aftermath of a fatal accident in the Alps. Did the victim fall – or were they pushed?

A single moment in time has to be explained until we get to the bottom of it. This event focuses the legal, forensic and psychoanalytical minds of dozens of people, obsesses several, and will define the futures of at least two.

Unseen by us and possibly by anyone, it’s the fall of Samuel (Samuel Theis) from the balcony of his chalet in the French Alps. A freak accident is the least likely theory. If he jumped, then, why? If he was pushed, did his wife do it?

If a man falls from the balcony of his house and no one sees it, is his wife going down for it? After all, the circumstances of most marriages would look pretty damning when held up in court as circumstantial. Had a fiery row? Suspicious. Harbouring a petty (or not so petty) grudge? Looks like a motive.

Only she, a celebrated German novelist called Sandra Voyter (Sandra Hüller), was at home at the time, having terminated an interview an hour before, because Samuel, to ruin it, was blasting a steel-drum instrumental at deafening volume on a loop upstairs.

Next, Samuel’s body is found in the snow when their teenage son Daniel (an amazing newcomer, Milo Machado Graner) returns from walking his dog, Snoop. When it gets to court, with Sandra standing trial for murder, Daniel’s testimony will be crucial, but he’s an unusual eyewitness, being blind, the consequence of a devastating accident crossing the road when he was four.

What follows – half in English, which the couple always spoke, and half in French, which the lawyers and judge use – is an intellectual thriller of rare calibre, assembled so precisely and deepening so richly it continually takes your breath away. This script is a diamond, co-written by director Justine Triet and Arthur Harari.

An acceptance that marriages – relationships in general – can be hard and ugly is baked into this knotty, whipsmart and elegantly constructed film.

Absolutely everything in it counts, including the tender relationship Sandra has with her defence counsel (a marvellously alert Swann Arlaud), the obnoxious zeal of the prosecutor (Antoine Reinartz), the glimpses inside Daniel’s mind of what may have happened, the competing theories of blood spatter experts, the contents of Sandra’s novels, Samuel’s inability to finish his own, the importance of sex in their relationship, and so on.

Triet dazzles us here with legal minutiae, the strange crucible of this courtroom process for exploring the lives of others, weighing up everything that’s provable, and what’s not – love, for instance.

Hüller, Triet’s perfect accomplice, seizes the day with a wonderful performance, assembling the type of 360º character portrait Liv Ullmann used to manage for Bergman: she’s an absolute magician at shading. This whole film has a wizardry to it which you’ll be thinking about for days, to the internal beat of those steel drums, boinging over and over.

Anatomy of a Fall is a family drama that wears the clothes of a crime procedural – a whodunit where marriage itself feels like a prime suspect.

Did she do it? It’s worth mentioning that when Hüller asked the director this question, Triet refused to say, claiming that she herself didn’t know the answer.

Ultimately, one of the key pleasures of the picture is its uncertainty – the niggling doubts that remain, and the sense that a crucial piece of the puzzle is tantalisingly out of reach.

A thriller of real psychological and emotional depth. Watch it with a partner and argue about it afterwards.

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