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NYFF Review: Anatomy of a Fall

Photo Credit: Les Films Pelléas\Les Films de Pierre

When any film comes out of the Cannes Film Festival with the coveted Palme d’Or, it immediately gains an elevated prestige and recognition that makes it a must-watch when it finally hits theaters. That remains the case for the most recent winner—writer-director Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall—as it’s an engrossing courtroom drama with gutting writing, incredible performances, and a tantalizing central storyline.

The film follows Sandra (Sandra Huller), a German woman whose husband Samuel (Samuel Thesis) is found dead from an apparent fall by their blind son Daniel (Milo Machado-Garner). However, the details surrounding Samuel’s death and his relationship with Sandra have some believing that foul play could be involved—and Sandra is the prime suspect. Now, Sandra must try to defend herself in Samuel’s murder trial, but it’s not easy. New details emerge about her and Samuel’s relationship as well as other’s personal perception of her that make her look incredibly guilty and cause Daniel to question whether his mother actually killed his father.

With Anatomy of a Fall, Triet quickly establishes her vision with unshakable confidence, as she captures this story perfectly and immerses viewers deep into its mystery. The film’s camerawork and settings are relatively ordinary but are made more intriguing through some effective zooms and camera movement. The film has an almost documentary feel, and it helps keep the film grounded and immersive. At times, audiences will feel like a fly on the wall of this story and it’s especially satisfying in a juicy court case like this one. Through these simple but strong techniques, Triet’s vision for this highly engaging murder trial flourishes and gives the film some good technical elements that’ll immediately make audiences interested in what’s happening on-screen.

Honestly though, Anatomy of a Fall has the kind of richly entertaining and enthralling narrative that makes for an easy crowd-pleaser on its own. With there being so many great twists and turns within the story as new details emerge, it’s hard not to be obsessed with just trying to figure out what really happened. The film excellently toys with viewers’ perceptions of Sandra’s innocence and makes her relationship with Samuel compelling in its growing toxicity. The more you learn about Sandra as a person and her messy relationship with Samuel, the more you find yourself bouncing back and forth in how you feel about her—which is the key reason the film is such a blast to watch.

It’s literally like watching that detective murder-mystery series, with some added dashes of Law and Order, that you binge in one sitting because you just have to know more. Except of course, that it’s all jam-packed into a film that’s well-paced (aside from a slow opening) and features much sharper writing for its dialogue and story. Anatomy of a Fall only becomes more intriguing as the case goes on and that questioning of guilt towards Sandra grows, which is the trait of any great mystery. It flows well and only builds in intensity as it heads towards its nail-biting verdict. It also just rides that line of ambiguity well, never making viewers feel like they have a full grasp on what is happening, instead leaving them desperate to know more. Not to mention, there’s such great personal emotion sewn in through Daniel’s stakes and perspective on the story.

The key part of what makes Anatomy of a Fall stand apart from other courtroom thrillers, though, is the super sharp and at times charming dialogue written by Triet and Arthur Harari. Overall, the film has some surprising bits of humor that add some levity to early conversations and the tenser moments inside the courtroom. Despite there being a very serious case going on, it’s hard not to chuckle or flat out laugh at both Sandra’s lawyer Vincent (Swann Arlaud) and the prosecutor (Antoine Reinartz) being locked in such a vicious, and at times, petty duel because of what they say to each other. Where the dialogue really hits hard though is in how cutting and brutal it can be.

When it comes to the central court case, there’s nothing as gutting and jaw-dropping as the dialogue that comes from everyone talking about this case. From others taking hard shots at Sandra’s personality to these lawyers saying anything they can to cut each other down, Anatomy of a Fall ends up being riveting simply through its dialogue. The film effortlessly evokes the idea of “cutting you with words” and it’s something that the performances especially embody and elevate throughout the film.

Anatomy of a Fall features a lot of award-worthy performances that deserve recognition. Both Arlaud and Reinartz are absolutely perfect in their roles and are the best parts of the courtroom scenes. The way their rivalry grows as the case goes on is amazing and they have this presence and line-delivery that’s unparalleled. They should easily be top names in the supporting performance conversations, especially Reinartz, as they are a big reason the film stays so captivating when it’s in the courtroom.

Huller is fantastic as Sandra, bringing a great mix of personal anguish and conflicted feelings that make her immensely complex. She effortlessly adds to the film’s strong sense of ambiguity and watching her deal with complicated emotions and the knowledge of how she’s perceived is always fascinating. With her also delivering a strong performance in The Zone of Interest, Huller has two award-worthy performances that should make her a top-name in the international film space.

It’s also worth giving Thesis some props as well, since he uses his limited time in the film still gives great complexity to Samuel and his relationship with Sandra. There’s a sequence between Samuel and Sandra that’ll literally leave viewers on edge because of how unsettling things get and how the performances constantly keep the tension boiling until the heat gets too high. It’s such a perfectly executed scene on every level and is undoubtedly one of the more striking moments of Anatomy of a Fall.

One of the biggest breakouts of the film is Machado-Garner, though, as his performance builds excellently throughout the film. Although there isn’t much for Machado-Garner to do in the early moments, he quickly becomes a strong scene-stealer in the final stretch because the film focuses on Daniel’s testimony and perspective more. He delivers some real heart in those moments that’ll leave you on the verge of tears and brings a mix of innocence and maturity that makes you genuinely love Daniel as a character. Machado-Garner is one of the best elements of the film’s final act and it’s largely because he plays a pivotal role in the film maintaining its human element.

Sure, it’s easy to see Anatomy of a Fall as a very engrossing murder-mystery drama with those strong hooks that leave you eagerly waiting for the final verdict. But it’s also got some real dissections about perception that are self-reflective and never make you forget the human aspects and anguish of this story. Overall, the film is a great reminder of how hard and messy it can be to see the truth over personal bias and how those things really wear on people and their relationships. There are plenty of heartbreaking moments between Sandra and Daniel that tear at your heart because of how this case has clouded their judgement in this relationship. Even if you lean towards Sandra being guilty, it’s hard not to feel sorry for how her story slowly slips out of her hands. There’s also that sense of grief from this tragedy that can’t be ignored with Sandra, and it results in some powerful final moments with her.

Anatomy of a Fall is one of the biggest must-watch films of 2023 for its highly engaging premise and all the great qualities created thanks to Triet’s unmatched vision. It boasts an award-worthy quality in nearly every aspect that makes the Palme d’Or win very much earned, and it’s one of those films that has the power to hook wide audiences through its accessible story and artistic approach. Anatomy of a Fall is simply a film too captivating to pass up and could easily be one of the most talked about movies of the year if it gets the audience it deserves.

Anatomy of a Fall is currently screening at the New York Film Festival.

Tom Moore
Tom Moorehttps://mooreviews.com/
Tom is always ready to see and review everything horrifying and hilarious that hits theaters, television, and video games...sometimes. You can check out his other reviews and articles on his blog, Mooreviews.

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