Now playing at the Fargo Theatre.
By Greg Carlson
Palme d’Or recipient “Anatomy of a Fall” is now enjoying an award-season victory tour, recently picking up Golden Globe wins for both screenplay and foreign language film as well as the National Board of Review’s prize for Best International Film. Oscar nominations should be forthcoming. Filmmaker Justine Triet, who wrote the script with partner and collaborator Arthur Harari, expertly uses the framework of the courtroom drama to explore the complex ways in which women are expected to sacrifice their own ambitions when managing marriage and children.
Triet has a powerful force in lead performer Sandra Hüller, whose equally valuable turn this past year in Jonathan Glazer’s “The Zone of Interest” signals the presence of a phenomenal talent building on the reputation of fearless characterizations like the one that anchored “Toni Erdmann.” Hüller’s Sandra Voyter is a novelist indicted for the death of her husband Samuel Maleski (Samuel Theis) after his body is found in the snow underneath the upper window of their mountain chalet in the south of France. Discovered by their visually-impaired son Daniel (Milo Machado Graner), Samuel’s corpse indicates a head wound that occurred prior to hitting the ground. The intrigue accelerates.
A sharp-eyed storyteller, Triet deftly juggles the circumstantial details that raise eyebrows as Sandra labors to prove her innocence. All sorts of genre tropes are layered, one by one, to cast doubt on the woman’s claim that she did not push her husband from a deadly height. Along with the curious pre-fall injury, Sandra contends with blood spatter theories, an inconvenient digital recording of a fight between her and Samuel, a bruise on her arm, and – in a touch that recalls “Basic Instinct” and other sources – fictionalized thoughts built into Sandra’s most recent book that make her look awfully guilty.
The inherent conflict of prosecution versus defense has too often been used as an easy chassis for novels, films, and TV shows; there are so many more bad courtroom-based stories than the handful of masterworks that have stood the test of time. Triet and Harari do better than most, showing the viewer so many compelling moments outside the legal proceedings. The death of Samuel may have been instantaneous, but the decay of the relationship he shared with Sandra took a long time. One of Triet’s triumphs is her refusal to compromise Sandra’s integrity in the face of the unfair and implicit accusations that share the same space as the explicit charge.
In her interview with Triet for “The New Yorker,” Alexandra Schwartz rhetorically asks exactly what components – other than murder – make up the accusations against Sandra: “ … neglecting [Samuel] for her work; flirting with other women; having ambition; being a foreigner, a mother, a writer, [and] an unreadable, unrepentant woman.” The themes of gender roles and expectations emerge as the film’s most powerful angle, and Triet has a great deal to say on the subjects. As a title, “Anatomy of a Fall” suggests multiple meanings. And the filmmaker relishes the charged back-and-forth of the exchanges that continually force the viewer to reevaluate what we think we know.
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