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"Anatomy of a Fall" Review

Anatomy of a Fall first popped on my radar in November when an acquaintance raved about it after seeing it at a film festival. It won the Palm d'Or at Cannes and is now up for five Oscars: Best Picture, Director, Actress, Original Screenplay, and Editing. In a controversial situation, it was not submitted by France for the Best International Film category, allegedly because the director, Justine Triet, criticized French President Macron for repressing protests. (Didn't she know she could protest Trump instead? /sarc)

The premise is simple, Sandra (Sandra Hüller, who also co-stars in The Zone of Interest) is being interviewed at her chalet outside Grenoble, France but the session has to be cut short because her husband, Samuel (Samuel Theis), is blasting obnoxious music while working in the attic and it'd be picked up on the recording. Their blind son Daniel (Milo Machado-Graner) goes for a walk with his dog Snoop (Messi), but returns to find his father's body laying in the snow outside the chalet.

 While Sandra believes Samuel fell out of the attic window, the presence of head trauma before he landed - one theory is he hit the shed roof, another that Sandra bludgeoned him and tossed him from a balcony - and Daniel's inconsistent recollection of events leads the police to charge her with his murder.

The bulk of the film is her trial which seems alien to American viewers because of the format of how the trial is conducted, especially regarding the defendant being able to sound off against the prosecutors directly during their presentation and other wrinkles. In typical legal trial story form, there are many revelations that recast what we think is going on including her affair with a woman a year before which may've fueled her husband's resentment of her flirting with the female interviewer, his previous suicide attempt and a secret recording of an argument that escalated into violence taped the day before his death.

While Anatomy of a Fall holds your interest through the trial because it seems to be building to something, it punks out at the end by not explaining what actually happened. There's a time and place on occasion for ambiguity in movies like whether Deckard is a replicant in Blade Runner, but whodunnit legal thrillers ain't one of those instances. When your first response to a movie is to immediately Google whether you missed the denouement somehow, that's not good. When you discover that the filmmaker deliberately wanted you to make up your own ending, that's bullsh*t. Imagine if Titanic wasn't told in flashback by Old Rose, but told linearly up to the part where Jack and Rose are in the water and it ended and the credits rolled without telling you if they survived or not. Not very satisfying, is it?

 Hüller's performance wasn't particularly impressive to me, partially because the nature of the character is meant to be possibly duplicitous and thus untrustworthy in a movie full of unreliable points of view. (Especially the blind kid.) Part of the trial is the alternate placing of the victim on trial along with the defendant while using non-murder-related aspects of her life like her writing (in a detail cribbed from Basic Instinct) or her sexual behavior to contend that if she's a plagiarizing bisexual wife, then surely she's a murderer, too. Since the mystery is whether she dunnit or didn't, her flat affect is appropriate, but I didn't read much inside to give much of a hint at the truth.

If it wasn't such a stacked year for Supporting Actor, it's likely Machado-Graner may've scored a nomination as well. (There's no one I'd bounce in favor of him, so just a tough break.

Justine Triet's screenplay, co-written with her partner/baby daddy (she's French, so is marriage still a thing there) Arthur Harari, is the film's foundational weakness because of its choice to tell 99% of the story and leave it to the viewer to fill in the last two pages with how they feel about it. Maybe it's a European art snob thing, but it undercuts the point of spending 2-1/2 hours watching the story, which is probably the point because European art snobbery.

While the tone of this review seems negative, it's not a poorly made or told film; just an unsatisfying one. If you go in aware of how it will leave you hanging, perhaps the journey may be worth the time as long as you don't expect to arrive at a destination.

Note: While it's a French film, a hefty chunk is delivered in English for a weird reason relating to Sandra's German background versus her husband's linguistic capabilities. So it's about 60% subtitled.

Score: 7/10. Catch it on cable/streaming.


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