French filmmaker Justine Triet (Sybil) surely had a hell of a time packing so much dialogue into her new film Anatomy of a Fall, but audiences patient enough to make their way through its innumerably subtle deconstructions of family life, marriage, parenthood and creative commerce will find more than enough reasons to stay glued to that screen.
In Triet’s newest, Sandra Hüller (I’m Your Man) plays accomplished writer Sandra, who winds up on trial for the murder of her husband Samuel (Samuel Theis). Perhaps he fell from the tallest level of their in-progress chalet-style home. Perhaps Sandra bashed his head in and shoved him over the railing. The evidence is compelling either way, but the more personal information that comes to light during the trial, the less viewers can be sure about.
Hüller dominates the film across a variety of existential archetypal modalities, from the creator to the mother to the woman who can and should exist outside the confines of her relationships with her husband and child. If she’s warm, she’s mourning wrong; if she’s even-keeled, she’s a cold bitch; if she cries, she’s too emotional. All the while, luminous performances from Swann Arlaud as a defense attorney; Antoine Reinartz as a prosecutor; and, in flashbacks, Thiel as the put-upon husband further illustrate the challenging nature of any sort of relationship. Anatomy cuts to the bone repeatedly, especially when exchanges thought private or personal explode into the public domain of a courtroom. Even then, gasp-worthy revelations pale in comparison to ways the mundanity of continued existence seem to mute our joys and passions: a marital argument that might have been instigated for the sake of plumbing book-worthy content; a harsh word about stolen time; how we can wind up in traps we built ourselves, even if we didn’t realize we were building them.
Of particular note is young Milo Machado Graner’s performance as Sandra and Samuel’s son Daniel. As emotive as any of his more studied onscreen peers, Graner grounds the absurdity of adult interpersonal strife through the perspective of a child—kids always seem to know what’s fair or not, which is a tough row to hoe for the powerless. Arlaud wows as well, though his character can’t seem to bring himself to ask his client outright what might have really happened with her husband’s death. Against Reinartz’ chilly but capable prosecutor, sparks fly.
When all is said and done, Anatomy is actually a film about how we process our failures, or even our fear of success. Sadly, we tend to aim that shit outward. Whether or not Samuel’s death was a murder becomes immaterial when weighed against the myriad little blows the characters bestow upon each other. Knowing people is perhaps as hard a thing as there is.
+Hüller is captivating; hard truths laid bare
-A final act “twist” that feels over-complicated
Anatomy of a Fall
Directed by Triet
With Hüller, Theis, Arlaud, Reinartz and Graner
Center for Contemporary Arts, Violet Crown, R, 151 min.; w/subtitles