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Review: Anatomy of a Fall is Judging You Too.

People. They’re inherently maddening. They say and do ridiculous things, sometimes for misguided reasons. And that’s what makes them so entertaining to watch. Deep down, we can never truly know anyone, even those we love. We can only make assumptions based on what they show us.  People can still surprise, delight and disgust in an instant. And that’s before considering that people operate within the confines of modern society, with its politics, complicated rules of social discourse and ever-evolving sense of right and wrong. It’s amazing that we’ve come this far considering we’re a deeply flawed species.

It is a fascination with human fallibility that drives Anatomy of a Fall. Initially billed as a whodunnit, this film is the closest cinema has come in years to defining what makes people such interesting, vexing creatures. It’s also a really gripping narrative with a Hitchcockian vibe.

Author Sandra Voyter (Sandra Hüller) and husband Samuel (Samuel Theis) have recently moved with their visually impaired son Daniel (Milo Machado-Graner) and dog Snoop to a French mountain chalet in need of renovation. An attempt by a journalist to interview Sandra at the chalet is thwarted by Samuel playing unbearably loud music as he remodels the attic. So the interviewer leaves and Daniel takes Snoop for a walk. When he returns, Samuel is lying face down on the ground outside the chalet, blood pooling in the snow. He’s dead. But nobody knows how it happened. Did he throw himself from the attic window? Inconclusive post-mortem results compel the police to investigate whether he was pushed, by the only person with Samuel when he died, Sandra. The case against Sandra is strong enough to instigate a Kafkaesque trial. Sandra and Daniel’s lives are picked apart by the system and the media, as Sandra and Samuel’s complex relationship is dissected. Everyone has an opinion on her guilt or innocence, but only Sandra knows the truth.

Anatomy of a Fall could have easily been a standard procedural, as the courtroom scenes are so central to the story. Director Justine Triet (who co-wrote the script) instead infuses the familiar reconstructions, expert testimony and biased interrogation with visual tics and acting theatrics. One example being a startling scene where audio evidence is played for the court. The camera then effortlessly moves into a visual reconstruction of the audio, before cutting back to the court at a pertinent moment, highlighting how we can’t help but create ideas of what happened to someone else, even when given only fragments of information.

Yet, while it’s hard not to judge Sandra, Anatomy of a Fall simultaneously judges the viewer. A hubristic sense of righteousness oozes from the pores of every character, from prosecutor to political TV pundit. Daniel’s blindness, Sandra’s inability to speak fluent French and her sexual history are all dredged up and delighted at, almost to the point of parody. But beneath the hate-watch Triet feints at the societal obsession with how women ought to behave. Sandra holds strong opinions, dares to comment on how her success may have mentally destabilised her husband, and speaks in a (stereotypically “German”) matter-of-fact attitude which all seem to irk her French compatriots. Triet follows Sandra in court and at home, showing how she and Daniel relate and how she can still joke with her lawyer, Vincent (Swann Arlaud) while building to a riveting conclusion about how we only later understand events from our past. The entire cast is fantastic and Hüller is mesmerising in the lead role.

As a melodramatic take-down of the French legal system, Anatomy of a Fall is a success. As an exploration of marriage, motherhood, and misogyny, it is a triumph. But, as a film that holds a Palme D’or and has already doubled its budget at the box office, Anatomy of a Fall is a miracle.

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