2023’s Palme d’Or winner goes to “Anatomy of a Fall”, which is one of the most memorable films I’ve seen in a while. The story examines many perspectives of one event, but mainly from Sandra and her blind son Daniel who live in a remote French town. When Sandra’s husband Samuel is found dead in the snow, a whirlwind of courtroom drama, personal demons, and perspective analysis are uncovered to figure out how exactly Samuel died. Did Sandra push him? Did Samuel commit suicide? Or does their son Daniel know something even deeper?
There’s not much “Anatomy of a Fall” does poorly. In fact, it’s the most complete movie I’ve seen all year. The film begins with an interview that seems surface level, but the events that transpire prove to be anything but. Every ounce of this story has an integral piece to the larger idea at hand: did Sandra kill her husband? This is a film where I immediately wanted to attend another showing due to the detail-oriented story. I didn’t want to leave one detail unexamined. From dialogue delivery, to facial expressions, and even recapping of events…each piece of the plot is executed with precision and purpose. It’s one of those mysteries that doesn’t overdramatize events, but rather immerses the audience in an emotional testimony. Each line delivery feels like a real person. No one feels larger than life, but rather a group of individuals with flaws, regrets, and ambitions that are far more complex than they seem. I credit this film for really fleshing out its characters to the fullest degree. But it happens over time through the careful removal of layers. Very well done!
The performances are also something to highlight. Sanda Huller delivers an incredibly thoughtful performance. She creates the right amount of empathy for a character who has just lost her husband and is still coping with her child having a disability. But as the story unfolds, she has enough flaws and suggestive secrets that make the audience wonder if she’s guilty of the crime. Her complex moral center is explored through the flawed marriage she shares with Samuel. Daniel is also performed well by newcomer Milo Machado-Graner. Daniel is a character that is soft spoken but thoughtful. His disability has not hindered him from living a good life, but it’s clearly something he’s had to adjust to. After hearing both of his parents torn down in a tense courtroom situation, his perception of the parents he loved so dearly is questioned. The film is ultimately about Daniel’s perception of events and how his new reality will be shaped based on the outcome of the court case. Samuel Theis gives a committed and emotional performance as Sandra’s husband in the short screentime he has. Swann Arlaud and Jehnny Beth round out Sandra’s legal team, both challenging her but having her back when she needs it most. I can’t forget Antoine Reinartz as the aggressive lawyer challenging Sandras perspective. His scenes were very intense. There was not a weak link among the performances!
Another area to highlight was the script, which is one of the sharpest I’ve seen in quite some time. Each line of dialogue felt intentional. It’s important that a story so reliant on perspectives delivers on each character providing their insight on a situation. Being that the film is dialogue heavy, the pacing of a 2.5 hour long movie could have gone off the rails if the script was not strong enough. But both the long runtime and dense script are handled well. I didn’t feel the runtime at all, which is a testament to proper pacing and substance. Audiences will be left with plenty to chew on as there is no clear answer or solution. Sure, we get a resolution by the end, but the complex moral ambiguity displayed by the film’s end will leave viewers with strong feelings. “Anatomy of a Fall” certainly challenges the viewer to think about the intricacies of a situation, where right and wrong may not exist. But a healthy skepticism and attention to detail make this an incredibly thoughtful film.
I truly had to think hard about aspects of the film that weren’t done well. The runtime might be bothersome for some, but I thought it was paced very well. I suppose it all depends on how certain audience members enjoy long, dialogue driven films. The story is also told in French and English, flip flopping depending on the situation. So those who aren’t fans of subtitle movies might struggle as the dialogue moves very quickly. There is also a situation regarding Daniel’s dog towards the end of the film that was cruel. Upon reviewing this further, I think the situation was helpful in Daniel’s analysis of the events that transpired. But animal lovers may be uncomfortable with the scene.
“Anatomy of a Fall” is an excellent film that relies on its subtleties and details to propel the story forward. The performances really sell an uncomfortable situation for everyone involved. A sharp script and intriguing premise make this a very memorable experience. I highly recommend giving the film a watch as its profound examination of marriage, perspective, and morality are executed masterfully. I could see it getting many nominations when the awards season rolls around. A must see!