When Fiction Destroys Reality: Anatomy of a Fall (2023) - Reviewed


Images courtesy of Le Pacte

Anatomy of a Fall (2023) is a compelling courtroom drama and a deep examination of long-term relationships' dark and dirty corners. Sandra (Sandra Hüller) is a famous novelist who lives out in a remote house in France with her husband Samuel (Samuel Thesis) and their blind son Daniel (Milo Machado-Graner). Daniel goes out on a walk with his guide dog and, upon returning home, finds Samuel's broken body strewn onto the snow. Initially, it looks like Samuel fell from the attic window while working on a project and hit his head, but an autopsy reveals that he may have sustained the head injury before falling to his death. Sandra is now the main suspect in connection with his accident, and she has to prove her innocence in a highly publicized trial.

Much of the film takes place in court, as the prosecution examines Sandra's personal life and past transgressions in excruciating detail. Since they were unable to find a murder weapon, they had to establish a motive, which forced her to air all of their dirty laundry in front of the jury. The vast majority of relationships aren't perfect but are comprised of years of ups and downs--love interwoven with grudges and problems. One can imagine that if they had to lay all of their life choices out in front of strangers and be judged for them without any of the surrounding context, they might look like a monster or, at the very least, a narcissist. 

Sandra's interrogation is filled with not-so-subtle splashes of misogyny--she is demonized for being bisexual, and it is implied that her husband was emasculated by her success as a writer. In a lesser film, her character might have been lionized. Still, as the story progresses, it becomes apparent that she also has many issues, often ignoring her relationship in favor of working on her various intellectual pursuits. Every line of dialogue sounds meticulously crafted, and there are some inspired editing choices that break up the courtroom drama. Daniel is the other half of the film, the wild card in the mystery. How much does he remember from the incident? What are his motivations? His character is well-executed, and Milo effectively channels his quiet grief. Hüller commands every scene, standing her ground and putting in a nuanced performance. 

Aside from the family and court drama, Anatomy of a Fall also examines the thin line between truth and fiction. Sandra’s lawyer warns her that the objective facts don't matter during the trial--she has to manipulate others' perception of her and craft a persona that will exonerate her. Ironically, her occupation as a writer has prepared her for this moment, and she has to craft a story that will keep her out of jail. The jurors are only given small snippets of her life without context, which is mirrored later when the prosecution reads excerpts from her published books and tries to find parallels in her real life. 

One of the characters gives Daniel a piece of advice: "Find the truth you can live with." Anatomy of a Fall purposely keeps the details of the opening death ambiguous to the audience, which lets them make their own decision about Sandra's guilt. They, too, have to pick a truth and live with it.

--Michelle Kisner