[TIFF 2023] ANATOMY OF A FALL -- Sandra Hüller Captivates in Unexpectedly Entertaining Courtroom Picture
Review by Sean Boelman
Anatomy of a Fall won the Palme d’Or upon its debut at Cannes, and is now making its way through the festival circuit before a hopeful awards run in the fall. Justine Triet’s film might not be as weighty as you expected it to be, but it's a completely gripping watch thanks to flawless execution.
The movie follows a woman who is accused as the sole suspect in the case of her husband’s suspicious death. It’s a film that unfolds in a constantly surprising way, even if we think we know where it is heading, as the script forces us to think back on what we remember and challenge the idea of trust.
What is most surprising about Anatomy of a Fall is that it is thoroughly entertaining. Despite a two and a half hour runtime, a substantial portion of which takes place in a courtroom, it manages to be utterly captivating. The dialogue by Triet and Arthur Harari is very sharp and rapidly paced, keeping the movie engaging even when it falls into more familiar territory.
That being said, the film is unexpectedly shallow and straightforward. Although there are some undercurrents that viewers could read into — like the misogyny of the justice system assuming it’s the wife who did it, as well as a few others that are best not discussed to let the twists of the case unfold naturally — it’s really a pretty standard courtroom drama, just extremely well told.
Anatomy of a Fall also fumbles some of its characterization. Although the protagonist is naturally compelling, and the movie does an excellent job of planting the right seeds of doubt in the mind of the viewer, the supporting characters are a tad underwhelming. For example, the film attempts to do something complex with her son, but it results in a decision that could have many viewers turn on him rather than sympathize with him.
Still, the excellent ensemble makes the most out of the characters, adding a much-needed level of nuance. Sandra Hüller’s performance will go down as one of the best of the year. Not only is it impressive how much emotion she is consistently able to get out of the role despite it being trilingual, but it’s a turn that feels extremely subdued — even in the moments of more heightened emotion. In the supporting cast, Milo Machado Graner, Samuel Theis, and Swann Arlaud all do an excellent job as well.
The movie is also brilliantly executed. The cinematography by Simon Beaufils is perfect, with a feeling of coldness and clinicality that is necessary for the tone to be effective. The sound design is also excellent, with some recurring motifs — including a steel drum cover of “PIMP” being used to especially unnerving effect.
Anatomy of a Fall is an unexpectedly unfussy, unpretentious film. Instead, it’s entertaining in a way that unfolds as a nail-biting thriller as opposed to your standard courtroom drama. It’s the rare Palme d’Or winner that seems to have genuine mainstream breakout potential, as it’s just that captivating.
Anatomy of a Fall screened at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival, which ran September 7-17 in Toronto, Canada.