Review: Anatomy of a Fall

Photo: Neon Pictures
Photo: Neon Pictures

Screen reviews by Christopher Gist

Any of us who’ve done a job or sport or craft for a while can tell when someone is unforgettably amazing at it. The lead in Anatomy of a Fall, Sandra Hüller, is that unforgettably amazing talent, recently nominated for best Actress Oscar, and a reason to watch the film. Hüller feels poised to break through in major English-language films but, until then, she can also be seen doing her amazing work in the also-Oscar nominated The Zone of Interest, a film examining complicity.

The plot drive for Anatomy of a Fall comes from a murder mystery: did a wife push her husband from their alpine chalet’s upper window, or did he jump? Is she complicit for other reasons? We’re asked to judge, which means relying on a drip-feed of ever-dependable film and TV forensics. It’s probably not a spoiler to say that film forensics favour the hero – in fact, Judge Judy is the odd one out with her high conviction rate – but the film is less interested in legalities than in the workings of a marriage and artistic ambition.

Both wife and husband, Sandra Voyter (Hüller) and Samuel Maleski (Samuel Theis), are writers. She’s the success, he’s the wannabe with great ideas, one of which turns out, in fact, to have been very successful. But for her, not him. It seems that Sandra either pinched the idea, or was given it by Samuel in a moment of creative paralysis. In the middle of the crisis is their 11 year old son Daniel (Milo Machado Graner), whose eyesight has been damaged by an accident seven years earlier, an accident in which his father feels complicit. Felt complicit, now that Samuel is dead.

Much of the drama is set in a court, and the legal process is an eye-opener for those of us schooled in English-language film and TV jurisprudence. It seems anyone in director Justine Triet’s court room can interrupt and question anyone else in the room in a kind of French-revolutionary spirit, which makes it a very dynamic and, perhaps, more personal experience. As for whodunnit, the actors themselves reportedly did not know, and Triet herself says of the final edit “There were a lot of versions — when we started to show it to audiences, sometimes people were saying, ‘she’s so guilty’, you know, sometimes the opposite. It was my goal to be in the middle; to divide opinions”. There are hints for me, too, of people’s mien being on trial, as with Camus’ The Stranger/The Outsider and the Australian film Evil Angels/A Cry in the Dark.

When I went to see Anatomy of a Fall, it looked as though I was attending the only session in the state, and it’s trickier now to find a session despite the Oscar nomination and Palme d’Or win. Interestingly, Hüller’s Best Actress Oscar nomination makes her the third German actress to get this nod since stars Marlene Dietrich and Luise Rainer in the 1930s. While it was a favourite at the Sydney Film Festival, not being able to see it at the cinema doesn’t matter – with its numerous interiors and two- or three-handers, it’s not a film that must be seen on the big screen. It is already on Amazon in the States and will, I’m sure, have its window on streamers here soon.