The purpose of any court cases to uncover the truth. But, is that even really possible?
This is the question that lies within the heart of Anatomy of a Fall, the much fete’d winner of the Palme D’Or at this year’s edition of the Cannes Film Festival. Directed by Justine Triet, Fall tells the story of Sandra (Sandra Huller) a successful German writer who lives a quiet life in the French Alps with her husband, Samuel (Samuel Theis) and her visually-impaired son, Daniel (Milo Machado Graner). However, when Samuel’s dead body is discovered, Sandra becomes the primary suspect. As the trial unravels the secrets of her marriage, Sandra’s relationship with her son becomes increasingly strained as their future together remains in jeopardy.
Although the film takes place over several months (or even years), Triet keeps the focus of the narrative on one woman’s fight for her innocence. Performances within the film are muted, but therein lies their power as well. There’s an intimacy between its characters that Triet wants to communicate. As a result, the relationship between this mother and her son feels earnest and honest while they attempt to hold keep their lives together. Having come under attack by police investigators, their quiet life has been quickly disrupted and their home flipped on its ear.
As a mystery, Anatomy of a Fall does its very best to hold its cards close to its vest. This story of this mysterious death unravels at its own pace, keeping the emphasis on the facts (or so it seems). Unlike other murder mysteries, Fall walks the viewer through the process of investigation at length. Attempted re-creations and lengthy conversations about testimonies keep the emphasis on the ‘whodunit’ even more than ‘why-they-done-it’. What matters to the prosecution are the facts yet the film refuses to give too much away. In this way, there are moments where Fall feels as much like watching a live trial play out on CNN as it does a cinematic narrative. Moments of character interactions unspool differently when they primarily take place on the stand.
In doing so, however, Anatomy of a Fall uses its runtime to question not only the events of Samuel’s death but also the nature of truth itself. As a writer, Sandra understands the nature of storytelling. To her, the line is blurred between truth and fiction, making it difficult to separate the two. This notion plays out within Fall deliberately, challenging the viewer to pick a side and inviting them to make judgements for themselves. Of course, as her life story unfurls before us, Sandra also faces the court of public opinion. Here, facts become even more irrelevant in the face of feelings and accusations.
Even so, in the midst of this, the viewer understands that all Sandra really wants is freedom for herself and her son.
To say any more would potentially give too much away but, suffice to say, Anatomy of. A Fall remains a tightly-written and well-executed mystery that’s bound to entertain audiences. More than this though, Fall also recognizes the subjectivity of truth, even as it in attempts to uncover it.
Anatomy of a Fall is available in theatres on Friday, October 20th, 2023.