"Sometimes a couple is kind of a chaos and everybody is lost. Sometimes we fight together and sometimes we fight alone, and sometimes we fight against each other, that happens."
A superb mashup of a Hitchcock whodunit and a 70's Paul Mazursky couples drama, the brilliant new ANATOMY OF A FALL has plenty of surprises up its sleeve.
We meet famous author Sandra Voyter (Sandra Heller) as the film opens, meeting a young reporter about to interview her at her chalet style home, high in the French Alps.
Sandra seems anxious to engage in casual conversation with the young girl. Their ability to chat gets harder and harder as Sandra's off screen husband Samuel (Samuel Theis) works upstairs in the attic, hammers banging alongside an instrumental version of Eminem's "P.I.M.P." that blares relentlessly from a giant speaker.
Sandra ends the interview and the reporter leaves as we watch Sandra and Samuel's 11 year old son Daniel (Milo Machado Graner) leave the chalet for a walk in the snow with his dog.
When Daniel returns, he finds Samuel lying dead in the snow after an apparent fall from the attic high above.
Police arrive, detectives descend and the evidence raises questions of exactly what happened in the attic. Sandra calls on a friend from her past Vincent (a fantastic Swann Arlaud), to serve as her lawyer. At first, it's to provide a shield from the press, who clamor for dirt on the famous author. But soon, Vincent and his team are pulled into one of their most challenging cases when Sandra is indicted for her husband's death.
The film gets everything right. Packed with flawless writing by the film's director Justine Triet and Arthur Harari, I had no idea if Sandra was telling the truth for 99% of the film's compelling two and a half hour running time. The film never drags for a second, driving you forward with discoveries that peel back another piece of the complicated puzzle.
The reason it works so well is that it feels incredibly real. The acting is off the charts, with the trio of Heller, Theis and Graner all making you feel like you're voyeuristic in peeking in at a real family. Every role, from the reporter in the opening scene to the judge in Sandra's trial, are perfectly cast.
The long running time never bores and Triet uses it masterfully to create extended moments in which you're left to ponder Sandra's guilt or innocence.
Daniel is partially sighted after an accident that happened on Samuel's watch when Daniel was a toddler. The ripples of that near tragic event are still flowing outward during the week of Samuel's death.
A hidden recording of an argument the day before the fall serves as a pivotal moment that brings you literally to the edge of your seat. While you sit there, you start to squirm hearing Sandra and Samuel argue. Then Triet turns the recording into a flashback, dropping you into the home as the long argument takes place. It's the first time we've seen Samuel, except for an appearance on his autopsy table.
As exciting as any action sequence, it's a combination of great writing, acting and direction that leaves you floored.
Can Triet top it?
Yes, she leaves her best for last, with an emotional conclusion I won't touch on here.
Winner of the Palme d'Or at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, it's sure to be nominated for Oscars this week, I'm hoping for Heller's performance and Triet's brilliant screenplay.
In English, French and German, ANATOMY OF A FALL transcends any one language as it pulls you through its mysteries. If you love Dateline, if you love mysteries or courtroom thrillers, if you love adult drama, see this excellent film.
It's a thrilling A+ from any angle of the fall.