Justine Triet’s latest film, “Anatomy of a Fall,” astonished everyone at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and it went on to win first prize at the prestigious Palm d’Or. It’s both a classic courtroom drama and a scintillating murder mystery. While its slow pace and the ambiguous ending may put off the occasional viewer, the film boasts one of the cinema’s outstanding performances in German actress Sandra Hüller’s prime suspect. Present in virtually every scene, she holds you spellbound for the film’s 157-minute running time.
Hüller portrays her namesake, Sandra, a highly successful German author who now lives in the French Alps with her French husband, Samuel (played by Samuel Theis). Samuel is a former academic struggling with his career and attempting to fix their chalet as an Airbnb.
In the film’s opening scene, Samuel is noisily working upstairs while Sandra is doing an interview downstairs. The noise eventually becomes unbearable, so Sandra rearranges the interview for another date. She puts in her earplugs and lies on her bed to nap while their son, Daniel, takes the dog for a walk.
The dog, a border collie named Snoop, is played by Messi, the most talented canine actor I have ever seen on film. The bond between Messi and Daniel is extraordinary to watch, and I am happy to report that, amongst exceedingly high competition, Messi won this year’s Palm Dog. Director Triet said that. “Snoop is not just another character or some animal running around [but] as much a part of the film’s ensemble as any other actor. He is as much a character as any other [in the film], which was very important to me.”
Upon Daniel’s return, he discovers his father’s dead body in the snow, with a deep wound on his head. Was it an accidental fall or something more sinister? Daniel’s testimony is unreliable since he is blind due to an accident that Sandra blames on Samuel, who was looking after him then. Samuel’s anger and depression from the incident strained their relationship, and Sandra still carries resentment. The police quickly arrest Sandra for murder.
Sandra hires an old friend (Swann Arlaud) who may be in love with her as her lawyer. But her blind son (a beautiful performance from Milo Machado-Graner), who witnessed nothing, may still hold the key to her fate. Though unreliable, his memories from when he was sighted might recall something crucial at any moment.
The film keeps you on the edge of your seat, questioning what happened and who is responsible. Triet expertly weaves a complex web of emotions, suspicions, and hidden agendas. Sandra’s author character, a popular one in French cinema, often incorporates details from her own life into her novels, further blurring the lines between fiction and reality. In a flashback, we discover that Samuel accused Sandra of stealing one of his ideas. It was the basis of a book he gave up on and never finished. Although he suggested that Sandra use the idea in her novel, it is clear that he never expected her to have such enormous success with it, and it is evident that he feels betrayed.
Overall, Triet’s film offers an intriguing blend of mystery, drama, and psychological exploration. It challenges our perceptions of truth and leaves us contemplating the consequences of our actions.