Anatomy of a Fall movie review: Sandra Hüller is a force of nature in this Oscar-nominated, compelling courtroom drama

Anatomy of a Fall review: Oscar-nominated French film revolves around Sandra, who is arrested for murder following her husband’s death. Did she do it?

Anatomy of a Fall is nominated for 5 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

A of a Fall review: Sandra Hüller has always been a compelling actor, one simply needs to watch her shed a solitary tear in 2016’s Toni Erdmann to witness the amount of deliberate indifference she eschews in with her presence. The same opacity of her face is the blank canvas on which Justine Triet’s Palme D’or winning courtroom drama Anatomy of a Fall rests. (Also read: The Teacher’s Lounge movie review: Germany’s Oscar nominee is a compelling tour de force)

The actor’s impenetrable gaze is key to unlock the mystery of this compelling drama. In half of the film, she is at the trial, charged with the murder of her husband. Did she do it? The questions float in the air, and several secrets come vicariously close to corner her into some kind of submission. But the more Anatomy of a Fall demands those inclinations, the more she stands still like a dilemma. Should we feel sorry for her? What is she hiding? This woman won’t give you easy answers.

In Anatomy of a Fall, we are first introduced to Sandra Hüller’s Sandra Voyter, who is German by birth but is now living with her with her French husband Samuel (Samuel Theis), in the French Alps. Soon, we will come to know that Sandra is a successful novelist and translator, while Samuel is a former professor struggling to write a book himself. The couple’s only son, 10-year-old Daniel (a terrific Milo Machado Graner) is visually impaired, and also lives with them along with their dog Snoop. Daniel and Snoop go out for a walk and return to find Samuel dead outside, with a bloodied wound on his head.

Did Sandra push Samuel from the top window? Did he hit his head on the way down and tumble on the snow? Or was he seething in desperation, and decided to kill himself? The autopsy reports are inconclusive, and Sandra finds herself witness to cagey interpretations by the police on what exactly happened that day. Key to all is what their blind son Daniel heard or interpreted, but is that enough? Then there’s her lawyer (a captivating Swann Arlaud), who might be an old flame of hers. But as the drama begins to unravel in the courtroom, they also have to deal with the prosecutor (a scene-stealing Antoine Reinartz), who will tear apart Sandra’s marriage to dissect that she indeed killed him.

Justine Triet, who co-wrote the script with her partner Arthur Harrari, fashion these revelations like a silent storm taking shape over the course of subsequent hearings. The dense and shifting screenplay moves ahead with the vitality of a propulsive novel, spread across its judicious use of the two-and-a-half hours runtime. Each word she chooses- switching from French to English alternatively, is essential and will be dissected to bits.

Simon Beaufils’s camerawork explores the spaces in the house, and then in the courtroom with quiet intensity, while Laurent Sénéchal’s editing is a masterclass in cutting through flashbacks to process key details. It all builds up to one volcanic fight sequence when the two finally face each other with uncomfortable truths. “Your generosity conceals something dirtier and meaner,” Sandra yells at Samuel. The effect is hypnotizing.

Anatomy of a Fall is gripping and intense, one that dares you to look away and not pay attention. Triet is not concerned with the answers, or a sense of closure that might let all the missing details fall into place. She refuses to indulge in those calibrations, which finds promise in Sandra Hüller’s utterly mesmeric performance. To occupy this world is to find ourselves walking through many lies and battles, but not all of them are for everyone. For it matters how we are perceived, more than anything else. Anatomy of a Fall understands that. Give it all the awards.

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