Before the film starts, DidSheDoIt.com briefly flashes on the screen.
At some point during the next 151 minutes, you will come to a one-word answer to that URL’s question. Maybe your stance will change, evolving over the runtime. Maybe you stubbornly cling to your initial reaction to the film’s first scene. Whatever you decide, you will see genuine, fundamental problems with those who come to the opposite conclusion.
Anatomy of a Fall exists to be debated. A vibrant masterwork composed only of gray, it exploits ambiguity to expose our inherent, unspoken prejudices about relationships, gender roles, parental responsibility, and justice. Although much of it is in French, it isn’t aloof in its purposeful uncertainty. It is a mirror shaped like a magnifying glass, sifting through a potential crime for evidence of your humanity.
It’s pretty good, can you tell?
Writer/director Justine Triet and cowriter Arthur Harari meticulously walk through one tragic afternoon that contains within it a multitude of insights on what it means to love, be loved, and just exist in the world. Sandra Voyter (Sandra Hüller) is a writer living in a French cottage with her husband, Samuel Maleski (Samuel Theis), and son, Daniel (Milo Machado Graner). Samuel interrupts a journalist interviewing Sandra about her novels by loudly playing an instrumental version of 50 Cent’s “P.I.M.P” on loop. It is an inspired musical cue that will come to haunt you. Because shortly thereafter, Samuel is found dead beneath an open window several stories up by Daniel, who is blind.
Did he fall? Was he pushed? Did he intentionally jump to his death? The next several hours is mostly spent in a courtroom, as a prosecutor (Antoine Reinartz) duels with Sandra’s lawyer (Swann Arlaud) amid the detritus of a relationship. Opposing experts offer contrasting views of blood splatter patterns and body falling trajectory. Recorded arguments are combed through for signs of motive and intent. Tainted memories are offered into evidence. The film unpacks every tiny little detail and clue to fill in the gap during which Samuel rapidly went from attic to ground. It then says “Well, what do you think?”
The first thought must be that Hüller gives a performance for the ages. Anatomy of a Fall only works because she is simultaneously pitiable and repellant, infuriating and enrapturing, innocent and guilty. Please understand: This isn’t some trickery where in some scenes she is made to look like a villain and in others a victim. She is consistently both in every moment.
The supporting cast are brilliant in their genuine confusion at her duality. Her son, who was there, is left ping-ponging between his own verdict. Her attorney says he believes she’s not guilty with a look that says “Please don’t kill me too.” The audience is right there with them, compelled to know a truth that is forever unknowable.
Because that is life. It is making judgments and assumptions about ourselves and others based on the biased information we carry in our own heads, gathered through the distorted lens of our misperceptions. If you go to DidSheDoIt.com you will find two options: Yes or no. Because “maybe” is an excuse, a lie we tell ourselves to avoid making a real choice. We avoid it because every choice we make exposes who we really are, what we really think, how we really see the world around us.
Sorry if this seems overly rapturous, but this is the kind of exceptional genius that justifies dedicating so much of our lives to watching, reading, and hearing art.
Great films expose how you see the world.
Better ones make you question how you do.
Perfect ones dare you to defend yourself.
Grade = A+
Other Critical Voices to Consider
Morgan Rojas at Cinemacy says “In every sense of the word, Anatomy of a Fall is perfection. Don’t let the nearly three-hour runtime intimidate you, this courtroom drama soars by with brevity.”
Annie Brody at What She Said says “Sandra Hüller’s landmark performance in Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall is simply stunning. This is one other actors may look to see how realism and naturalism are done.”
Stephanie Zacharek at Time says “Hüller’s Sandra, with her focused gaze, her manner of answering a question directly instead of dancing around it, is the movie’s uncompromising heart. She smiles like she means it, and only when she means it. It’s like a new language, stripped of complicated syntax and flowery adjectives, and it’s our job to learn how to read it.”