“…I think he fell.”
Grounded by a brilliant performance from star Sandra Hüller, Justine Trier’s Anatomy of a Fall is an undeniable masterclass in suspense. Utilizing the complexity of human nature and emotion, Trier beautifully intertwines her characters, crafting a classic whodunit that will have you guessing until the end.
Remotely set amidst the snow-covered French Alps, Sandra, a German writer, is in the middle of a whimsical, almost flirty conversation with another female when an instrumental version of 50 Cent’s “P.I.M.P.” begins to blare from an upstairs speaker, most certainly put on a loop by her husband, Samuel. Unable to continue the exchange, the dialogue is abruptly cut short. A few hours later, Samuel lies in the snow, blood surrounding his body—the only possible witness is the couple’s 11-year-old vision-impaired son.
While the film begins as an investigative thriller, content with telling of the probe and court case that follows Sandra’s eventual arrest, it quietly repositions itself as a deep, gruesome character study set to analyze the couple’s conflicted, near-toxic relationship. The maneuver, done with such meticulous eloquence, almost goes unnoticed, showcasing the easiness we feel in dissecting the unknowns surrounding someone’s life. The film allows, almost encourages, our imagination to run wild as we feverishly attempt to make the pieces fit and build an understanding that, to us, makes sense.
A self-examination of our own human nature, the film is intense and dramatic, bringing forth an intoxicating element that, much like real-life court cases, dares you to look away. Additionally, each of these characters, educated and well-spoken, hold their own against the other. As a result, both the film and its players feel elevated. The quick exchanges lead us down an unknown path where we sit, unsure of where the story is headed and what actually happened on the third floor of that secluded home on that fateful late afternoon.
Crafting a narrative that is equally obsessive and thrilling, Trier, who co-wrote the film’s script with Arthur Harari, works to give each of her characters a strong, consistent pulse. Even Milo Machado Graner, who plays the couple’s eleven-year-old son, Daniel, shows vigor and composure as the courtroom begins to attack his parents’ relationship, diving headfirst into their troubles and the tumultuous fight they had the night before Samuel’s death. And though the judge excuses Daniel during certain, highly combative moments in the trial, this strength prevents the film from falling off—a considerable feat given the extended runtime.
But even amidst the extra minutes, Anatomy of a Fall always feels to own its purpose. There are no filler scenes, no wasted moments. Trier’s intent and objective remain clear from the onset. Her actions are always deliberate, and when the final montage begins to take shape and the puzzle pieces shift positions to formulate a clear, concise picture, you can’t help but admire both the journey and the outcome. And though, as the screen fades to black, you might find yourself bewildered by the story’s conclusion, you’ll eventually realize it was, in fact, the outcome that was necessary.