Heartland: Anatomy of a Fall
Justine Triet's courtroom drama is one of the most gripping and memorable movies that you'll see this year.
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There’s never been a courtroom drama quite like Justine Triet’s “Anatomy of a Fall,” a movie that has quickly gathered a hefty amount of steam in the awards conversation after winning the Palme d’Or at the 76th Cannes Film Festival.
This isn’t Triet’s first picture, but this is the one that will make her a more recognizable and idolized name in the world of film.
The movie is full of surprises, even from the opening scene. Particularly because it’s not quite what you would expect. At the film's start, an instrumental cover of 50 Cent’s “P.I.M.P.” blares in the background as Sandra (Sandra Hüller) casually flirts with a younger woman who is there to interview her about her literary career. We hear pounding from upstairs, as Sandra’s husband Samuel (Samuel Theis) is hard at work, doing something in the attic.
In the meantime, we are also introduced to the married couple’s visually impaired 11-year-old son Daniel (Milo Machado-Graner), who takes his beloved dog Snoop out to play in the snow.
There’s a feeling of uneasiness in the air, and everything comes crashing down not long after when Daniel finds his Dad lying bloodied and unconscious in the snow.
A year later, Sandra has become the prime suspect in her husband’s death and sits at the center of a highly publicized trial. Helping her through the process is family friend and lawyer Vincent (Swann Arluad), who wants to aid Sandra in proving her innocence. Much to Sandra’s chagrin, Daniel has also been thrust into the trial as the sole witness of Samuel’s death.
What makes “Anatomy of a Fall” so compelling is that Triet and Arthur Harari’s script constantly has you at battle with yourself over whether or not you believe in Sandra’s innocence.
As the trial persists, secrets are unveiled that portray Sandra and her marriage with Samuel in an unflattering light. It’s not that Sandra is a bad person, in fact, Hüller’s triumphant performance portrays the character in a way that feels raw, deeply human, albeit incredibly flawed.
It’s one of the most complex character pieces you will see this year, if it were to constantly demonize Sandra or try too hard to get you to sympathize with her, much of the film’s engagement would fade.
Triet’s direction radiates confidence. In the hands of another filmmaker it could’ve been a tonal nightmare. She perfectly fuses elements of the classic courtroom drama with a familial drama like “Marriage Story,” with splashes of black comedy and a murder mystery.
Yet, even with the heaviness of the subject matter, Triet never feels as if she is making light of the characters’ troubles. Instead, she has the audience feel like a fly on the wall, watching everything unfold.
Much like the people in the courtroom and in Sandra’s life, Triet feels as if she is trying to reason with all the possible events that could have led to Samuel’s death. That also means she doesn’t stray away from portraying some rather upsetting sequences.
While some stories have these kinds of incidents that feel like they are played out for sheer shock value, that isn’t the case with “Anatomy of a Fall.” Even the scenes that will leave you wincing serve a greater purpose than just making you feel uncomfortable.
With a two-and-a-half-hour runtime, it might be easy to pass off “Anatomy of a Fall” as too daunting of a watch. It’s not the feel-good movie of 2023, but the way Triet paces the film is impressive all in itself.
So often are audiences treated to a slow-burn kind of drama that makes you feel like you’ve been sitting in a theater for 4 hours when it’s only been half of that time. “Anatomy of a Fall” cuts right to the chase, there’s no filler or fluff and there’s a point to everything that is shown in the movie.
As the film reaches its conclusion, it does start to drag and leave some audience members feeling antsy, but upon reflection, it leaves you feeling satisfied and fulfilled.
Pulling off “Anatomy of a Fall” successfully was clearly no easy feat for Triet as a filmmaker, it’s a complicated story full of complicated characters. It’s one of the very best films that you’ll see this year, and it won’t be leaving anyone’s mind anytime soon.