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Film Critic | In the Shadows of Doubt: Justine Triet’s “Anatomy of a Fall”

Justine Triet's "Anatomy of a Fall" is not your run-of-the-mill psychological thriller; it's a sinuous journey through the intricate mazes of a fractured union, a mysterious death, and the murky depths of the human psyche
Sandra Hüller and Swann Arlaud in "Anatomy of a Fall"

by Chris Montanelli

Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall is not your run-of-the-mill psychological thriller; it’s a sinuous journey through the intricate mazes of a fractured union, a mysterious death, and the murky depths of the human psyche. With a plot that teeters on the edge of reality and fiction, it’s a film that demands your attention, challenges your perception, and leaves you with more questions than answers.

Triet, a director known for her incisive exploration of human relationships, plunges us into the life of Sandra Voyter, a novelist accused of her husband’s murder. Sandra Hüller’s portrayal is a triumph, capturing the nuances of a woman caught in a whirlpool of grief, guilt, and defiance. She’s not your typical protagonist; she’s layered, elusive, and fiercely intelligent. In one scene, she muses, “My job is to cover the tracks so fiction can destroy reality.” It’s a line that encapsulates the film’s essence, blurring the lines between truth and fabrication.

The narrative structure is a complex weave of past and present, with flashbacks that serve as pieces of a puzzle the audience is desperate to solve. Samuel Theis as Samuel, the deceased husband, posthumously dominates the film, his presence felt in every shadow of doubt, in every whispered accusation. The chemistry between him and Hüller is palpable, their shared scenes a dance of love and resentment. As Samuel sardonically remarks, “You should be flattered that I was inspired by you,” we sense the undercurrents of a relationship where inspiration and destruction were bedfellows.

In Anatomy of a Fall, Justine Triet’s directorial prowess unfurls with sublime finesse, sidestepping the garishness of cheap thrills in favor of a meticulously orchestrated interplay of character and plot, intricately entwining the story’s complex threads; her adept touch is manifest in those charged moments where the camera lingers, a fraction too long, on Sandra’s enigmatic visage, suspending the audience in a liminal space betwixt doubt and empathy, a masterful tug on the viewers’ emotional strings. With rhythmic precision, she conducts the flashbacks, each a revelatory note peeling back the layers of the characters’ histories, unveiling motives and emotions with a deftness that deepens the intrigue rather than unravels it. Triet’s eye for visual metaphor is nothing short of poetic, juxtaposing the tranquil, snow-draped Alps against the family home’s dark, brooding interiors, a tableau vivant echoing the narrative’s dance between truth and deception. In the courtroom, her lens captures more than just the principal drama; it keenly observes the jury and onlookers, their subtle shifts and uneasy postures, each a silent yet potent contributor to an ambiance brimming with anticipation, every nuance a deliberate stroke in her grand, suspenseful opus.

The film’s thematic exploration is its true star. It’s not just a story about a murder trial; it’s a profound commentary on the nature of creativity, the destructive force of love, and the elusive nature of truth. Triet refrains from offering straightforward resolutions, preferring to present a storyline that is as richly layered and contradictory as the characters themselves. As the literary critic in the film notes, “What excites people about the Samuel Maleski case is that it seems to come from one of her books. It feels like she’s already written it.” The film itself feels like it’s been plucked from the pages of a deeply unsettling novel, one that you can’t put down despite the discomfort it evokes.

But let’s not forget the supporting cast, who add layers of complexity to this already rich narrative. Swann Arlaud, as Vincent Renzi, Sandra’s lawyer, is not just a legal advocate but a moral compass whose needle swings with every new revelation. His portrayal is a subtle blend of professionalism and personal investment, making him a character you watch with a keen eye, wondering what drives his fervent defense. He’s the type who seems to say, “The truth is rarely pure and never simple,” his face a map of the moral ambiguities that the case stirs. Then there’s the son, Daniel, played by the young Milo Machado Graner, whose blindness adds a poignant layer to the narrative. His world is not defined by what he sees but by what he perceives, making his character a fascinating study in truth and perspective. In one scene, he hesitantly says, “I hear everything, even what I shouldn’t,” a line that resonates with the film’s exploration of the unseen truths that lie beneath the surface.

In the end, Anatomy of a Fall is a film that refuses to be defined. It’s a psychological thriller, a courtroom drama, a tragic love story, and a philosophical inquiry rolled into one. It’s a film that lingers, haunts, and ultimately, transcends its genre. As Sandra says in the film, “There were too many words in this trial. I’ve nothing more to say.” Perhaps that’s the point. In a world obsessed with definitive answers, Anatomy of a Fall audaciously leaves us marooned in a sea of contemplation, its echoes haunting us long after we’ve left the theater; it’s a cinematic enigma that refuses mere entertainment, compelling instead a vivisection, a fervent discourse, a tenacious grip on our collective memory — and therein lies its triumphant roar.

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