★★★★ - STUFF
- The Palme d'Or winner that will keep you gripped until the final frames -
While perhaps the least provocative and controversial Palme d’Or winner since 2018’s Shoplifters, French director Justine Triet’s expertly crafted courtroom drama is also notable for being the first film to also take home the prestigious Palm Dog Award (not even The Artist managed that double).
Border Collie Messi fully deserves his accolade as Snoop, playing a key role in the shocking, scene-setting opening scenes and somewhat cheekily introduced via an instrumental version of P.I.M.P by 50 Cent, which features one Snoop Dogg – and proves to be just as important to the narrative to come (as well as being an earworm that will stay with you for days afterwards).
Accompanied by visually impaired 11-year-old Daniel (Milo Machado Graner), it is Snoop who first comes across Daniel’s father Samuel (Samuel Theis).
Returning from a walk in the woods nearby their French Pyrenees home, Daniel screams as they find their path obstructed by Samuel’s lifeless body, seemingly killed by a rapid descent from the third-floor balcony.
But with the hip-hop tune blaring – and on a loop – it takes Daniel’s mother and Samuel’s wife, German writer Sandra (Sandra Hüller) a while to rouse from her earplug-enhanced afternoon slumber. She too is seemingly stunned by the scene, but after calling the authorities and calming Daniel down – insisting “we have to do things we did before” – she consults old friend and lawyer Vincent (Swann Arlaud).
It’s just as well, as the police have plenty of questions – Sandra has strange bruising and not even Vincent is buying her suggestion that he simply fell.
“Do you have anything that could make this seem consistent with it being a suicide?” Vincent asks.
“It’s probably our best defence – our only defence.”
Extensive onsite re-enactments and alleged discrepancies in her testimony put Sandra increasingly on edge, while the discovery of an audio-recording from the day before creates even more suspicion around her potential involvement, with a seemingly inevitable trial ensuring she is refused bail, so she can’t pressure her son as to his recollection of events.
What follows is a fascinating, absorbing and thought-provoking examination of French legal system and modern morality, Sandra finding her marriage, parenting and writing all placed under the microscope, as the rival legal teams attempt to prove her guilt – or innocence.
Relationships are strained, nerves are frayed and emotions run high, as her past traumas and triumphs are relitigated in a very public arena, while the merits of using experts (the blood splatter analysts called by the defence and prosecution have very different views) and the “subjective interpretation of an ambiguous record” to provide evidence will no doubt create plenty of post-viewing debates – long after the credits roll.
Yes, the running time is testing and the pace best described as slow-burning, but writer-director Justine Triet and her script collaborator from 2019’s Palme d’Or nominated Sibyl – Arthur Harari – certainly reward the patient and attentive viewer.
At Anatomy of a Fall’s heart though is another truly compelling performance from Huller (Toni Erdmann, I’m Your Man). In virtually every scene, she’s the reason why you’re never quite sure of – and desperate to know the truth of – her character’s motivations and true involvement in the horrifying event, until the final frames.
- James Croot, STUFF
Anatomy of a Fall is now playing at Light House Cinema!