Anatomy of a Fall (2024.5, Puzzling , Murder ?)

An accident? A suicide? Or was it murder? Anatomy of a Fall will keep you oscillating between the possibilities even past the end. (4*)
Anatomy of a Fall
Anatomy of a Fall

Anatomy of a Fall – Snapshot

Anatomy of a Fall is a great movie that will stir the brain juices.  That Samuel fell and died is clear.  What isn’t is whether it was an accident, a suicide, or a murder.  The movie teases you into oscillating behind these three stories with every minute telling, and not telling, something new! Definitely worth a view.(4*)

Where to Watch:

Stream: Hulu

Rent/Buy:  Prime/Apple/Fandango/YouTube/Google ($4)

Anatomy of a Fall – The Oscar Buzz 

Oscar Nominations (5) / Oscar Wins (1) :

Best Picture

Director (Justine Triet)

Original Screenplay (Justine Triet/Arthur Harare)WINNER

Leading Actress (Sandra Huller)

Film Editing (Laurent Senechal)

Anatomy of a Fall placed seventh  of all 38 Oscar-nominated films this year with my OQI score of 10. (Tied with The Holdovers and American Fiction).  With four major and one minor nominations, it is what I call a “storyteller” film which means it should have some great characters and story, but not necessarily a dazzling screen presence.  (The movie is from France and would have probably been the French submission for International Feature, but the director, Justine Triet, managed to piss off the French film industry with some scathing remarks at a press conference.  However the academy ended up rewarding it anyway with multiple nominations and one major Oscar!)

As a French film, it doesn’t have a lot of connections with many other American movies – French independence and all that.  Nominated film editor Laurent Senechal, for example has worked on several French and other European films, but I haven’t seen any of them so have no idea what his work looks like.  And I have to say the same thing about Justine Triet and her partner, Arthur Harari, who wrote the original screenplay and won the Oscar.  Triet also directed Anatomy of a Fall and received a second nomination for that role.   

Senechal’s editing is key to making this movie work.  The magic in a good thriller or mystery is to know how to tease the audience – giving them just enough information to whet the appetite, but not so much that they can form a completed opinion.  The other entry in this Oscar race that we have seen, Killers of the Flower Moon, suffered from the problem of leaving too much in – the movie was just too damn long.  I can’t tell you if Senechal should have won or not yet, but his work here is terrific.

This is our second film nominated for Original Screenplay and while Maestro offered a penetrating look into an, arguably, happier relationship, this one takes on a very troubled marriage.  The movie is superbly written with a curious balance of exposition and silence.  The film keeps giving you additional pieces of information and each time you form a slightly different opinion of the guilt or innocence of the suspect.  Comparisons have already been made between this film and Marriage Story and they are apt – the marital fight scene is not only reflective of many real battles, but is done tightly and adds a peculiar balance to the scale-of-justice facts.  The script, and Triet’s direction, also blend in the intriguing drama of a courtroom thriller on a par with Anatomy of a Murder, from which I think this film probably takes its name.

This is also our second film in the Director’s race.  Of course Scorsese (Killers of the Flower Moon) is a Hollywood legend and Justine Triet is a New Wave French filmmaker.  Americans, especially, are much more familiar with Scorsese’s filmography than they are with Triet’s.  Nonetheless, this is a superb movie and we will be seeing more from her on this side of the pond.  Scorsese’s film is, of course, a much bigger venture, but there is something to say for how much character and story Triet is able to pack into a tighter film.

A lot has been said about Sandra Huller’s acting as the main character, Sandra Voyter.  I was impressed with how physical her performance was.  She was remarkably capable at subtle inflections by, for example, a dart of the eyes or a licking of the lips.  At this point, we have seen all four of the leading actress nominees that did not win, and Huller’s performance is definitely a standout.  It will be interesting to see how it stacks up to Emma Stone’s winning performance in Poor Things.  (Huller also the leading actress in another Best Picture nominee, The Zone of Interest and I’m looking forward to the comparison – it is rare to get an actress in two Best Picture nominated films in the same year).   

With three major nominations and a nod in the critical Film Editing category, it isn’t surprising that Anatomy of a Fall, was also in the running for Best Picture.  Since there are still six more in this category to be seen, I will wait to give my own ranking.  But despite the two movies existing on opposite ends of the tonal spectrum, I still think Barbie is a better overall movie experience largely because it not only tells an interesting story, but it is also so much fun to watch.  Anatomy of a Fall is really all about the story.

Anatomy of a Fall – Related Movies

Marriage Story / Anatomy of a Murder (storyline and tone)

Sibyl (Director, Screenplay, Huller, Cinematography, Editing)

Onoda: 10,000 Nights in the Jungle (Screenplay, Editing)

Toni Erdman/ The Zone of Interest (Huller)

Anatomy of a Fall – What Others Think

Anatomy of a Fall is a movie that both audiences and critics seemed to like.  Over all 24 general interest films in this year’s Oscar list, this one comes in fifth on my audience/critic rating scales, tied with American Fiction and the Mission Impossible film.  Audiences rated this film seventh out of the 24 – based on more than 100K ratings – with many of the viewer comments focusing on the courtroom scenes, Sandra Huller’s performance, or the psychological look at the dynamics of marriage.  Those who didn’t like it were, mostly, looking for action movies, and this one is certainly not one of those!

Critics were even more favorable, ranking Anatomy of a Fall fourth, tied with Killers of the Flower Moon and behind Past Lives, Oppenheimer, and The Zone of Interest.  Brian Tallerico (RogerEbert) wrote “…it’s more than a mere mystery – it’s an examination of a marriage from all angles while embedding the idea that we can never fully comprehend anyone but ourselves.” Later in his review, “Triet is trying to interrogate how couples communicate or fail to do so and what that failure can lead to in the end.”  Jessica Kiang (Sight&Sound) has a wonderful summary when she writes “Triet handles with magnificent certainty the feeling/fact that none of the great three-word statements – I love you, I hate you, I forgive you, I am sorry – exists to the exclusion of any of the others.”  And Amy Nicholson (New York Times) was less enthralled with the film but agreed that “All people are unknowable, the film insists, even to themselves.”  But she is a little less certain with Triet’s results: “In a sense, Triet has mapped a path to nowhere.  You can respect her choice intellectually and still walk away grumbling in frustration.”

Anatomy of a Fall – Special Mention

Spousal Homicide – According to World Health Organization (WHO) data, 38% of homicides of women and 7% of men, around the world, are committed by an intimate partner, with 80% of those homicides occurring in the home.  In the U.S., murders of females were committed by an intimate partner 40% of the time, more than from any other offender status (Nonintimate family/friend/stranger/unknown).  For men the largest percentage of murders come from friends or other known persons and only 7% from an intimate partner. (US data is from CDC based on homicides committed between 2003 and 2014.). Murder rates in France are, of course, lower over all, and so getting data to compare to the U.S. is difficult, but in 2018, attempted murder by intimate partner represented only 7.5 % of all attempted murders, substantially lower than in the US.  Overall, the number of spousal murders in France is very small which supports the idea that the case in Anatomy of a Fall would have been of popular interest.

Anatomy of a Fall – Michael’s Moments

In Anatomy of a Fall the story is all in the dozens of little details that are exposed minute by minute.  None of them are irrelevant to the central puzzle of the film and the reason to watch this movie, at least once, very intently.  Here are some small elements of the puzzle:

Samuel is found dead in the snow right in front of a three story house, high on a mountaintop outside Grenoble, France.  He had been working on installing installation in the attic.  So he fell, right? 

He is discovered by his 11-year old son, Daniel, returning from a walk with his dog, Snoop.  But Daniel has a severe visual impairment.  We don’t know what caused it, so why is that in the movie?  (Remember that movies are constructed realities, framed by the creative minds of the writers and directors.  Nothing appears in a movie unless there is a specific reason – they control the vertical and the horizontal).  We learn later why that little tidbit is there and it adds one more possibility to the mechanism of Samuel’s death.

Then there is Sandra, Samuel’s wife.  The film opens as she, a moderately successful writer in France is being interviewed by Zoe, a journalist wanting to talk about her writing.  With a glass of wine, the interview begins to unravel when Samuel, upstairs, starts playing an instrumental of a rap song, P.I.M.P. By 50 cent, at extremely loud volumes.  Zoe leaves, Daniel goes on his walk, and what happens next is anybody’s guess.  All of this “setup” occurs in the first 11 minutes of the 151 minute movie.

Did Samuel die because of an accident, a suicide, or was it murder?  You will spend the remainder of the film oscillating between these possibilities.  Justine Triet, and her partner, Arthur Harari certainly earned the Oscar for Original Screenplay, which is a remarkable example of layering on clues, some of which are important and some of them are simply to misdirect.  But early on we are told that there is a very hazy distinction between fact and fiction.  By the end of the film you will only, with certainty, eliminate one of the three possibilities.  (Anatomy of a Fall makes for a great date night movie because you can debate the outcome over dinner afterwards!)

Triet made the wise decision to direct this film and ensure that the ambiguities of the script got woven into the film.  And she apparently wrote the role of Sandra explicitly for German actress Sandra Huller who earned her leading actress nomination.  Her mastery over her own facial and body expressions is more than impressive.  As the movie progresses, her character’s extremely careful balance between mind and emotion, and the way she can change reality both among those around her and for us, the “objective” audience, is mystifying.

Anatomy of a Fall is a murder mystery and has similar intellectual challenges as the original Knives Out film.  But it operates on an entirely different level because of its penetrating insights into marriage.  Anyone who has seen Marriage Story has to find parallels, especially in the marital fight scene that comes in just as the movie is taking one more huge pivot (at 1 hour, 28 minutes).  Marriages are difficult human creations.  When they work they are wonderful – when they don’t they are perhaps the worst punishments you can inflict on people.  Marital fights aren’t signs the marriage is failing, but how those fights proceed and how they get resolved can be.  (Disclosure:  I’m on my second one – marriage, not fight – and, so far, all is going very well!). Sandra eloquently noted, in court, “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.”  So shit happens in a marriage – some of it is significant.  Anatomy of a Fall asks you to consider where that line really is.

Also in court, Daniel, who, remember, has very limited vision, recounts what is perhaps the most serious conclusion from the film.  He says, “ When we’ve looked everywhere and still don’t understand how the thing happened, I think we have to ask why it happened.”  Indeed, the essence of human agency is the motive, the will and reason to act.  So pay attention to that.

Oh, and of course, there is also Messi, the dog who plays Snoop.  He may very well be the only one who really knows what occurred that day.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could peer behind his crystalline eyes?  Wouldn’t it be terrific if we could actually talk to our pets?  Or…maybe not!  (They know too much.) (4*)

Anatomy of a Fall
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