Nowadays, certainty is simultaneously elusive and everywhere. There are few genres that capture fractured realities as accurately as the true-crime drama, examples of which build hives of mystery – swarmed by infinite armchair detectives buzzing, analysing and obsessing. In a polarised world, filled with laborious disclaimers, this ambiguity is worth treasuring.
Justine Triet’s Palme d’Or-winner Anatomy of a Fall is a brilliant anomaly that will hopefully inspire a trend: maintaining the unknowability of a crime, but in a fictional framework. The fabricated crime drama tends to conclude with a clear answer, but Triet and co-writer Arthur Harari work only with debatable truths. They're unbounded from any provable reality and yet maintain a tangible uncertainty, crafting a thoughtful, loquacious and fascinating study of a novelist accused of murder.
Photo: Picturehouse Entertainment
The ‘Fall’ of the title is from the attic of a picturesque chalet in the French Alps. Successful author Sandra (Sandra Hüller) responds to the calls of her visually impaired son Daniel (the surprisingly engrossing Milo Machado Graner), who discovers the corpse of his father Samuel (Samuel Theis) outside the house. Samuel's blood pours into the snow. What happened is hidden. You never see him alive in the present. Only obnoxiously loud music indicates his existence.
The film proceeds to unpack the question of Sandra’s guilt or innocence, not only by lawyers and journalists and family members but by the audience too. What are you being fed, and from what are you being shielded?
Despite being an original script, there are resemblances to the HBO true-crime drama The Staircase (based on the French Netflix docuseries). Anatomy of a Fall sticks itself either in the chalet or the courtroom, sometimes with little room to breathe, and occasionally cuts away to show the possible answers – different versions of the same event enhanced by heavily visualised demonstrations.
It’s an intensely talkative film, but Triet and cinematographer Simon Beaufils create an immersive and uniquely cinematic experience that makes you lose yourself in Sandra, with all her faults, as well as those invested in her. Even if you miss some of the key dialogue, symphonically bifurcated between English and French, the cutting reactions embody the gist.
Triet balances her style perfectly. She knows when to let the characters – all presented with instant and appealing idiosyncrasies – create their own shots and when to embrace the entertaining thrills of pans, zooms and cutaways.
Photo: Picturehouse Entertainment
Hüller is a compulsive presence on screen. A film that scrutinises not only the fall but the potential pusher needs a multi-dimensional performer, one that exudes charm as much as dislike. Hüller provides that and more. However, despite Sandra’s faults and sins, this critic found her strangely likeable as a character. The nuance and passion build her humanity rather than reveal its lack. And yet, this offers no reliable clue whether she did it or not.
Enigmas continue to roll into the story as the court examines Sandra and Samuel’s fractious relationship, as well as their shaken feelings towards their son. Revelations happen inside and outside the courtroom, the former sometimes unaware of the latter – compounding the confusion of truth versus fiction. Triet and Harari push slightly too far when the prosecutor reads sections of Sandra’s book, as if her writing is proof of intent.
To the end, the random, incongruous and yet somehow connected ‘facts’ of the case rattle around your mind. There's no clear answer. Anatomy of a Fall is a riveting courtroom drama that's brave enough not to settle for one version of events.
Anatomy of a Fall will be in UK cinemas on Friday 10 November.
|What||Anatomy of a Fall review|
10 Nov 23 – 10 Nov 24, IN CINEMAS
|Price||£determined by cinemas|
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