Friday, November 10, 2023

Anatomy of a Fall: Movie Review

Questions of truth or justice in a trial about guilt or innocence.
High in the French Alps, Sandra lives with her husband Samuel, their 11-year-old son Daniel and their dog Snoop. That is until her husband is found dead at the foot of their multi-storey chalet. The police question her, naturally, since she was the only one home with him at the time. She calls a lawyer once she suspects she’s about to become a person of interest. The question becomes whether she killed her husband or not.   2023

Directed by: Justine Triet

Screenplay by: Justine Triet, Arthur Harari

Starring: Sandra Hüller, Swann Arlaud

Normally in crime dramas, and especially in real life, the audience wants true justice. We want innocent people to be found innocent, guilty people to be found guilty and then charged with an appropriate punishment. But that’s what Anatomy of a Fall challenges. I answered for myself very early on whether she was guilty or innocent and never once wavered in my opinion through the entire trial and aftermath. What did waver was whether or not she would, or should, be found innocent or guilty. The film also includes commentary on how accurate memories are, or if memories are really just stories we tell ourselves.

Somewhat surprisingly, given how sensitive the subject is, but on the other hand not surprisingly, since every truth needs a witness, young Daniel is poised to become the most important person in the trial. He’s an 11-year-old kid who had an accident when he was four (indirectly his father is to blame) and was left partially blind. He has an adorable border collie that he’s devoted to and is able to use the serenity of the surrounding mountains as a way to shield himself from his parents’ arguments. He doesn’t even have memory of them fighting.

For North American audiences, it’s interesting to see how different a French trial is set up. For instance, the defendant sits behind her lawyer on one side of the court room and can answer questions at any point even when somebody else has been called to testify. Sandra’s an intellect, a professional writer and teacher, she knows how to conduct herself demurely on the stand, but it is striking how much more leeway the defendant has to defend herself.

The film works in a few key traits of Sandra subtly in some cases and not so subtly in others. To start, she’s a writer, and her very first bit of dialogue in the movie is arguing that all of her books are fiction but based on truth. The young journalist student remarks back that her books become a guessing game of what is reality and what is not. And thus begins a trial where everything said is either truth or fiction disguised as truth.

A popular talking point both within the film and in discussions afterward is Sandra’s bisexuality. I think the question becomes did the film highlight Sandra’s sexuality to prompt the audience to recognize the inherent or subconscious biases that people have against LGBTQ within a heteronormative society? Or did the film use it because it’s an easy way to use people’s biases and perpetuate the negative stereotypes to move the audience in a particular direction? I unfortunately think it’s the latter especially since all of the negative stereotypes people have about bisexuals, namely that they’re more prone to cheating and less likely to be romantically committed to a spouse, both proved to be true about Sandra. She’s a very flawed individual regardless and should not become a fictional hero to anyone.

The real strength of this movie is Milo Machado Graner as Daniel who is forced to understand that either his mother is a killer or his father killed himself. He’s presented as the key, even though he actually isn’t the key, to whether or not Sandra is innocent. But he is the key to whether Sandra will be found guilty or innocent. And that proves to be a much more interesting question.

One of the Best of 2023