Anatomy of a Fall (dir. Justine Triet)
By: Adam Freed
High in the oxygen deprived peaks of the French Alps, the body of a dead man leaves a crimson stain in the otherwise pristine mountain snow. The deceased, either the victim of a fall, a portrait of completed suicide, or perhaps the victim of a homicide, provides three possible explanations, equally plausible, all supported by identical evidence. This is the masterful conundrum posed within director Justine Triet’s Palme d’Or (Cannes International Film Festival) winning film Anatomy of a Fall. Adding to the perplexing nature of the French and English language film is that the only possible suspect of the crime is the deceased’s wife, and the only witness, his blind son. What unfolds from this undeniable premise is a compelling courtroom drama that poses more questions than it answers and leaves ample space for interpretation.
German powerhouse actress Sandra Hüller (The Zone of Interest) crafts a masterful performance as Sandra Voyter, wife of the late Sam Maleski, and mother to grieving eleven year old Daniel. Hüller’s command of her character is such that for every moment of sympathy she earns, there are equal and opposite moments of acquired accusation. Owning the duplicitous nature of her character behind the sad eyes of grief is as high a level of difficulty an actor can be asked to employ. Anatomy of a Fall requires Hüller’s impeccable performance in order to work as effectively as it does. Likewise, the film demands an emotionally dynamic performance from Sandra’s son Daniel, played to perfection by Milo Machado Graner. Too often child actors are used as window dressing for fear of their immature ability, yet Triet bravely moves Graner to the forefront and allows the talented young actor to shine in a role without which, the film would simply not maintain its trajectory. The level of performance difficulty is as high as the film’s Alpine elevation and yet the cast, especially Hüller and Graner, exceed the elevated standard.
Audiences in search of a clean and succinct murder mystery wrapped nicely in a warm whodunnit bow, need not invest in this recently crowned Cannes champion. The film presents far too many complexities of relationship dynamics, parenthood, self advocacy, and morality to be summarized by a scripted courtroom closing argument. The answers Triet asserts must come from within, and the evidence remains in the eye of the beholder. The restrained beauty demonstrated in Anatomy of a Fall is that it often alludes to details without ever feeling as if it is preaching. This form of guided thought allows for the freedom of interpretation to reign, a seemingly forgotten tradition unpacked and weaponized for the benefit of all who behold this powerful film. There is no room for debate concerning the existence of Samuel Maleski’s corpse as it rests temporarily preserved in the Alpine snow. Beyond this one indisputable fact however, Justine Triet’s sublime Anatomy of a Fall leaves plenty of latitude concerning explanations as to how Maleski became a corpse in the first place.
Target Score: 8/10 - Sandra Hüller is ready for her Oscar moment. The German star has unleashed back to back virtuoso performances in Anatomy of a Fall and in The Zone of Interest (2023). Beyond Hüller’s magnificence, Triet’s film captures an intense and deceptive story of love, death and despair.