Anatomy of a Fall, courtroom drama looks at a marriage

Sandra Hüller in Anatomy of a Fall

Anatomy of a Fall, a title that clearly tips its hat to Anatomy of a Murder, is a mystery wrapped inside a courtroom drama. The legal drama is about a murder trial, but the essence of the story is the dissection of a marriage. There are spoilers ahead.

The first scene in Anatomy of a Fall shows well-known writer Sandra (Sandra Hüller) in the midst of an interview. They are in the living room of Sandra’s remote chalet in France. Up in the attic, Sandra’s husband Samuel (Samuel Theis) turns on very loud music and runs power tools. The interview is cut short because of the noise.

Milo Machado-Graner in Anatomy of a Fall
Daniel talks to the judge

Sandra goes up the stairs to talk with Samuel. Their partially blind son Daniel (Milo Machado-Graner) takes his helper dog Snoop out for a walk. By the time Daniel returns from his walk, his father is splayed in the snow beneath the open attic window, dead.

The police come. It isn’t clear from the forensic evidence whether Samuel jumped or was bashed in the head and pushed. Since Sandra was the only person in the house with him, she is the main suspect if it was a murder and not a suicide.

the swoon worthy attorney

Vincent Renzi (Swann Arlaud), an old lover of Sandra’s, is her attorney. When she tells him she’s innocent, he replies, “That’s not the point.”

Since the lawyers on either side of the murder vs suicide argument have very few provable facts to go on, the trial of Sandra for murder turns into a detailed dissection of her relationship with Samuel. Each side brings in experts. The prosecution brings in men. The defense brings in women.

The prosecution brings up all sorts of points to make Sandra look guilty. Quotes from her books, examinations of her infidelities with women. Was Samuel jealous, was he suicidal? What about his guilt over the accident that injured his son’s eyesight? Every point was examined, but there wasn’t real proof of anything.

Eleven year old Daniel was allowed to listen to everything and to testify.

Sandra Hüller and Samuel Theis in Anatomy of a Fall
An argument the day before

The prosecution discovered a recording of Samuel and Sandra having an argument that turned violent the day before he fell from the attic balcony. She explains what the noises of struggle meant. All the questions in the courtroom really expose Sandra’s personality to us. Samuel we only get to understand through Sandra’s eyes, or Daniel’s eyes, or Samuel’s therapist’s eyes.

Daniel asks to testify again. He is assigned a watcher, Marge (Jehnny Beth). It’s her job to make sure Sandra doesn’t try to influence his testimony. In court, he tells a story about his father’s suicide attempt from 6 months ago that tips the jury in Sandra’s favor.

When the trial ends, the judgement is rendered. But we don’t know if it’s the right verdict. We don’t really know what happened.

Anatomy of a Fall was directed by Justine Triet. Her direction to Sandra Hüller was to act as if she believed she was innocent, even though she wasn’t told whether or not she was innocent by the story. Sandra Hüller was outstanding in this part. She was serious, convincing, articulate, and smart. The entire two and a half hours of the film was basically on her shoulders.

Sandra’s character was German. Samuel was French but Sandra’s French wasn’t very good. As a compromise, they spoke English at home. The film was a mix of English and French.

In the 2024 Academy Awards, the film received nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Editing, and Best Actress. It didn’t win in any of those categories but did take an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. There were many other nominations and wins from around the world with a Palme D’Or for director Justine Triet from Cannes.

The film itself was fascinating and well done. I found myself watching in amazement at the French way of conducting a trial. The two attorneys got to say anything they wanted – float theories, suggest ideas – even when there was no evidence to support what they were saying.

You can stream the film now on Hulu. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the film if you watch it.

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