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Review: ‘Anatomy of a Fall’ painfully dissects a marriage’s private moments

‘Anatomy of a Fall’ is the uncomfortable scrutiny of a less-than-perfect woman and even less perfect marriage

A scene from ‘Anatomy of a Fall’
A scene from ‘Anatomy of a Fall’ courtesy of TIFF
A scene from ‘Anatomy of a Fall’ courtesy of TIFF

‘Anatomy of a Fall’ is the uncomfortable scrutiny of a less-than-perfect woman and an even less perfect marriage when her husband dies unexpectedly.

It’s supposed to be “innocent until proven guilty,” but the court of public opinion tends to make up its mind long before all the evidence is presented. Consequently, since most of the people that sit on a trial are also part of the public, it can be difficult to ensure a case is decided entirely on the facts and not the personal feelings of the jury or judge. Thus, it’s often up to the lawyers to not just present their case, but sway the attitudes of the decision-makers to take their side regardless (or in spite) of what they’ve heard. Anatomy of a Fall is as much about whether the defendant is a murderer as it is whether she’s a good person.

Sandra (Sandra Hüller), Samuel (Samuel Theis) and their visually-impaired son Daniel (Milo Machado Graner) moved to a secluded house in France not long ago. She’s a successful writer and he’s a professor — a literary power couple on paper. One day, Daniel returns from taking his dog on a winter walk to find his father’s body lying in the snow at the side of the house. He screams for his mother who calls emergency services, but it was too late — Samuel was dead. But how did he die? Was he pushed from the balcony? Did he jump out the window? With an inconclusive autopsy, it’s up to the court to decide if Sandra murdered her husband, while their son learns all the gritty details of their imperfect marriage.

In North American trials, it seems more difficult to admit the personal details of the defendant’s life. However, in this French court, it feels as if anything goes with the judge permitting very few objections by the defence. As a result, every transgression, rumour or work of fiction the prosecutors deem relevant is submitted for consideration. Regardless of whether viewers think Sandra is guilty or not, it’s tough not to sympathise as they analyze intimate details of her life with Samuel and she’s forced to defend things that would normally go undetected or be forgotten.

Watching the case unfold is emotionally trying as one can only imagine being put in a position to defend words said in the heat of the moment or refute subjective accounts of your personality and actions. As the only other witness, Daniel becomes a participant in the trial, though it’s fascinating to watch them walk a tight rope during his questioning. Conversely, fewer considerations are given as he sits listening to them rake his mother over the coals, making the hearing that much more uncomfortable.

Setup as a courtroom drama, audiences will become engrossed in the intense trial as Sandra’s personality awaits a verdict.

Director: Justine Triet
Starring: Sandra Hüller, Swann Arlaud and Milo Machado Graner

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Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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