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  • Writer's pictureMatt Pipes

Film Study: Anatomy of A Fall




Anatomy of a Fall directed by Justine Triet is a Golden Globe winner for 'Best Motion Picture – Non-English Language’ and 'Best Screenplay.' Won the Palm d’Or, and is critically acclaimed as one of the most discussed films in the fall of 2023.


Daniel faces a life-altering choice as a preteen when the weight of a blurry case of his mother seems to be getting nowhere without concrete evidence. As the sole witness, his decision comes to either save or condemn her.



Movie Poster and Title, 'Anatomy of a Fall'
'Anatomy of a Fall' movie poster

NOTE: There are spoilers of the movie 'Anatomy of a Fall' involved in this article, I highly recommend watching the movie and then coming back here. Otherwise, proceed at your own risk.



 

‘Anatomy of A Fall’ introduces the play of the inner psyche, a world of what-ifs, and grants audiences autonomy to decide whodunnit. Without truly knowing who’s at fault, and without hard evidence it comes down onto the shoulders of our young leading character Daniel who has no real reason to be the condemner or rescuer of someone so important in his life, yet unfortunately, he remains the sole witness when his father dies in a remote home in the French Alps. The movie follows Sandra the mother who is the main suspect in this mystery, “That's why there's an investigation for a more suspicious death, because you were the only person there, and you are his wife.” We witness the trial alongside our characters, the trauma gained from such an experience, the grief these characters are never allowed, and the tension stemming from the unknown between Daniel and Sandra’s mother-son relationship.


The writing was masterfully done by Justine Triet and her partner in real life and writing partner Arthur Harari. Spanning across two languages, French and English, offering a practical element of ‘fear of being misunderstood’ for Sandra during her trial. It also offered a form of focus, as I didn’t want to miss a single beat as the discussion transformed quickly from English to French in the middle of a heated debate. The language of the film wasn’t the only thing that was practical on set, besides the acoustic version of P.I.M.P. blaring through the speakers upstairs, the piano was played by our character Daniel (Milo Machado Graner), informing Daniel’s growth and the mental journey he was forced into throughout the film.


The film is set and shot in the cold but beautiful French Alps, yet the vibrant coloring of our characters and costumes create a stark contrast, hinting at the extremes of the events and the events to come. This is a whodunnit that may not give you an answer to your questions at the end, but even more is the skill of our director Justine Triet, and the phenomenal actors featured here in this film to not reveal a thing.



Sandra (Sandra Hüller) in court - Grey Suit - Short hair
Sandra (Sandra Hüller) in court


On Set

When we’re talking about this film it’s always important to talk about our leader the director Justine Triet. She laid into the intentionality of this film taking takes over and over to get things right, while also being the head of the creative synapse, keeping everything in order, and allowing our actors to play toward honesty.


She spoke about actor Milo and how he’s an incredibly talented young man, and also how she directed him. It’s about being kind while also being able to be open for him to play, but you don’t want to press him too much as he is so young.


What was most important for her was to create a different kind of feminine lead. What both Hüller and her spoke and worked toward was to make sure that Sandra was not a victim. Even in the fight between Sandra and Samuel, it layers evidence into our goal for Triet. Sandra argues that Samuel is a victim, trapped only by himself from all the ideas and thoughts of movement forward that he had. Sandra, however, will not allow him to make her a victim. Triet argues that there should be more feminine figures with this power that aren’t instantaneously knocked down or looked down upon for acting in unexpected ways. So her work on this movie challenges the perception of feminine power “What if the powerful woman isn’t punished"


Playing a Part in 'Anatomy of a Fall'

Firstly we need to look at Sandra Hüller who commanded the space feeling fiery, and strong from the start. As we traverse with our character, as I mentioned before, without playing the victim, she remained truthful to the pain that would be had upon that stand thinking of her son listening in on the trial. With a keen understanding of this character, she was able to move forward into every beat with ease. This psyche would be difficult for anyone to tap into, but she played into it like a pro. What I noticed too was her ability to find the growth in her character in each remark and assailment the trial threw at her. As she goes on in the trial, she finds some sort of comfort and we can begin to see her fight back, along with her impatience in trying to speak French, noticing a particular wariness in her from many things not just the language.


The truth of the material is well-informed, and we can see the great difficulty between both our characters, the film intends to blur the lines on whether or not the mother killed her husband. It’s important to look at how throughout the entire film Hüller never reveals or hints at one way or the other, she keeps ambiguity in this performance while focusing on creating a living breathing human being. Hüller states how she decided to leave the answer to her character’s truth ambiguous to herself as well. This is a very interesting take, but It did not seem to impact the performance negatively. We’re not allowed into the inner psyche of this character, therefore with newfound autonomy, the audience gets to make their own choice. Hüller’s honesty in this role is remarkable.


There are so many boundaries for our character. To name a few, she cannot convince the jury easily, the only way they can base their decisions is to decide subjectively on what could have happened as there’s no solid evidence to be found. There’s a sense of perception which, though unfair, is an honest challenge in a case such as this. Though she is the dutiful and caring mother, she’s on trial for being potentially cold, and distant from her child while she works hard at her craft as a writer. She must feel pangs of guilt cross her as she genuinely cares for her child but must think what other people also think of her as well. Changing the very nature of what used to be real, and is now challenged by the perception of the outside looking in.



Daniel (Milo Machado Garner) exploring the attic, partially blind, touching rafters
Daniel (Milo Machado Garner) exploring the attic


Daniel has to suffer the circumstances too. This creates difficulty in speaking with his mother openly, careful to not speak about the court case, or about Samuel, which leaves both Daniel and Sandra (If she did not kill her husband) without a chance to truly grieve for their loss. It’s hard for Daniel not to be confused in this particular setting, eventually, he feels afraid of his mother, questioning her morals, and wondering if she could be someone who could kill someone close to her. Between these two choices though, guilty or not, it’s strange how he now has to carry the weight of the decision on himself.


Daniel is a primary part of this film playing as the sole witness of the events at home. Milo Machado Graner as Daniel is a newer actor on screen and a very young actor at that. The one scene that truly sets Daniel apart is when he finds out that his mother has won the case and we see him cry tears of joy, yet confusion. Still wondering whether or not his mother is a safe person to be around, he’s also overjoyed to have her back. The mix of emotions within the psyche of this character is dreadful to watch, but it’s true. Putting so much strain on this child will create so much trauma later in life, I wonder if there will be difficulty in making decisive actions and fear of similar familial figures. There’s a lot that we could glean throughout the performance of Milo, but one thing that I loved hearing was that he learned how to play the piano in the span of shooting this film and before stepping onto set. Noting a remarkable, early willingness to do the hard work as a young actor.


The practical sound design created an eerie pull into the world of this film. it felt as if I was truly there, witnessing the events being explored, and I was being pulled in with every second and every keystroke on the piano that Daniel was practicing. This is on the top of great whodunnit films shifting the very foundation of the genre and the feminine leads that play in them. The film makes you feel a part of it, while also distant from the actual answer. Scenes of fights and scenes of the cause of death shift and are replayed subjectively, and we begin to ask ourselves what is real and what isn’t. It’s a film that solidifies the audience's confusion, paralleling with those on the Jury, trying to decide how to condemn this individual if they even should at all. Weighing all the circumstances and evidence, I think it’s still difficult, even now, to know which is the right conclusion. Which makes for an intriguing and thought-provoking film.


 

If you have not seen this movie, please do. I would love to hear your thoughts.


Comment below, what questions in this film popped up for you.


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In the meantime, I study films to sharpen my knowledge and skills providing value by raising awareness of the artistic medium of storytelling.


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