Reviews

Anatomy of a Fall

BLU-RAY DISC REVIEW:

Criterion;
Drama;
Box Office $5.08 million;
$29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for some language, sexual references and violent images.
Stars Sandra Hüller, Swann Arlaud, Milo Machado-Graner, Antoine Reinartz, Samuel Theis, Jehnny Beth, Saadia Bentaieb, Camille Rutherford, Anne Rotger, Sophie Fillières.

The nature of truth gets an intense examination in Anatomy of a Fall, the Academy Award winner for Best Original Screenplay for 2023.

Sandra Hüller gives a powerhouse performance as Sandra Voyter, a novelist living with her family in a secluded chalet in France. As the film begins, she’s being interviewed by a grad student when her jealous husband, Samuel Maleski, stars blasting loud music over the stereo system. Due to the excess noise, Sandra postpones the interview while her 11-year-old son, Daniel (Milo Machado-Graner), takes a hike with his dog, Snoop.

When Daniel returns, he discovers his father’s dead body in the snow, having apparently fallen from the window of the attic he was renovating.

However, the forensics can’t definitively prove it was an accident, and the ensuing investigation reveals a bitter marriage between Sandra and Samuel that leads the authorities to suspect that she might have killed him.

Her subsequent trial for murder unleashes a flood of family secrets, much to the chagrin of Daniel, who just wants to understand why his father is dead. Samuel, it seems, had grown frustrated with his career and failed attempts to write a novel. He also carried tremendous guilt over an accident left Daniel partially blind when he was 4 years old, which seems to be the primary source of friction between him and his wife. Police discover a recording he had made the day before his death of a fight he had with Sandra in which he confronts her over an affair she had.

For her part, Sandra bases many of her novels on her personal life, and writes about a character who becomes dissatisfied with their relationships and fanticizes about her husband’s death, leading to speculation she was acting out that fantasy in killing Samuel.

She of course denies all of it while attempting to explain away inconsistencies in her statements, thanks to a quirk of the French judicial system in which the defendant is legally required to submit to interrogation by the prosecutor at all times of the trial to respond to testimony. On the other hand, it’s somewhat amusing to watch a German speaking primarily English chastising a French legal proceeding.

As the circumstantial evidence piles up, the possibility she could be guilty grows, leaving Daniel struggling to reconcile the two potential realities of what could have happened with what he thought he understood about his parents.

Did she do it? Did he fall? Was it suicide? Director Justine Triet (who co-wrote the screenplay with her partner, Arthur Harari) doesn’t give the audience any easy answers. Samuel’s actual fall is never shown, and evidence is doled out to the viewers just as it is to the jury, leaving it open to subjective interpretation. Thus, the film is much more effective as a compelling character study and an engrossing courtroom drama than a typical murder mystery.

The film looks fantastic on Blu-ray, particularly the scenes set in the lush snowy hills of France. Criterion’s Blu-ray and DVD editions of the film offer a 2K digital master with a 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack.

The accompanying extras are interesting but not Earth-shattering. The highlight is a 26-minute interview with Triet in which she discusses her reasons for making the film and where it fits in the context of her career.

On the lighter side is an eight-minute featurette about Messi, the charismatic dog that played Snoop, and how his trainer, Laura Martin, prepared him for the role.

Also included are deleted and alternate scenes that run about 33 minutes, though they tend to meander a bit. They are accompanied by a four-minute introduction by Triet, who provides optional audio commentary for each scene as well.

Less interesting for all except the staunchest film purist is a batch of audition footage: nearly 11 minutes of for Machado-Graner, and 13 minutes for Antoine Reinartz, who plays the prosecutor. There’s also 26 minutes of rehearsal footage of Machado-Graner. These offer a few lighthearted moments but seem included just to pad out the bonus section to a Criterion-level heft.

Rounding out the Criterion edition is a printed essay by critic Alexandra Schwartz analyzing the film’s dissection of modern family dynamics.

 

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