Anatomy Of A Fall Review: Riveting Drama Is An Unqualified Triumph

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A still from the film. (courtesy: YouTube)In Anatomy Of A Fall, her fourth film, French writer-director Justin Triet launches into a comprehensive examination of a festering relationship that ends with a sickening thud. The inquest yields an intense, riveting drama built around a suspected murder and a bruising courtroom battle.Thanks to the firm grip that she and co-writer Arthur Harari establish on the material, the film uses its two dimensions – it is both a marital story and a legal thriller – to inspect the innards of a home overrun by unresolved issues – incompatibility, infidelity, jealousy and gnawing bitterness.The home where Anatomy Of A Fall is set is a renovated chalet located on a snow-covered mountain. It is isolated, often dimly lit and split by staircases that lead to what feel like uncomfortably cramped spaces, acute angles and sharp tangents. It is a cold space that is in the grip of unease – a fact established right at the outset.Discordantly loud music is blasted from the attic as a woman tries to have a conversation with an interviewer amid the din on the level below. Serenity is the last thing that is within the realms of possibility here. The interview is aborted as the music gets louder. This is a perfect a lead-up  to the what is to unfold over the next two hours and a bit.          Sensationally solid writing, a staggeringly stupendous Sandra Huller and filmmaking of the highest order lie at the foundation of Anatomy Of A Fall, a thriller that breaks free from all generic limitations and turns into a riveting post-mortem of an unstable marriage.Samuel Maleski (Samuel Theis) falls to his death from his attic in his remote chalet near Grenoble. His wife, successful German novelist Sandra Voyter (Huller), is the prime suspect. Their son Daniel (Milo Machado Graner), a visually impaired eleven-year-old, is the sole ‘witness’.The boy returns from a walk with his guide dog Snoop (Cannes Palm Dog winner Messi) to find his dad lying dead in a pool of blood under the window. His testimony holds the key to the mystery of an incident that the police aren’t willing to dismiss as an accident or a case of suicide.With the odds loaded against her, Sandra is indicted. In the courtroom, the prosecutor (Antoine Reinartz), who is persistence personified, is hell bent on incriminating Sandra. Vincent Renzi (Swann Arlaud, brilliantly effortless), an old lawyer-friend of Sandra’s, puts up a stout defence in the face of a battery of people who testify against his client.Anatomy Of A Fall dives deep into the conflicting truths and presumptions about the severe emotional and psychological turmoil that the family has weathered over the years. At first flush, the fissures are the cause of Samuel’s death as well as its consequence. The film’s focus is as much on the wife as on the pre-teen boy forced to grow up quickly in the face of the unsettling turn of events.A two-and-a-half-hour-long legal drama might have been exhausting had it not been so adroitly plotted and paced. Like a master orchestra conductor on the top of every note, every rhythm and every resource, Triet handles the crucial reveals with phenomenal control. Not for a moment is this film about a marriage cut short by a tragedy off-balance.The physical fall that sparks an investigation, an indictment, a trial and unrelenting media attention is only the culmination of a relationship in free-fall. The fatal plummet is a metaphor for the direction in which Sandra and Samuel’s marriage has gone since a road accident left Daniel with permanent optic nerve damage.Anatomy Of A Fall uses the complicated and protracted trial to bring to the surface vital questions, in a completely non-judgmental manner, about a woman who exerts control on everything around her and a man who is beset with a sense of inadequacy, failure, resentment and guilt. You are a monster, the husband thunders during a raging argument the couple have a day before Samuel’s death. He also accuses her of being cold-hearted. Before the tape is played in the courtroom in a bid to prove Sandra’s culpability, a scene has her asserting to her son that she isn’t the monster that he might be led to think she is.She says to the traumatised boy: “Your father was my soulmate. We chose each other. How do we prove that?” Her words constitute a despairing entreaty. They also add up to an assertion of innocence. But how tough things are for Sandra becomes clear when nobody – certainly not the prosecutor and the police investigator – is in any mood to give her a chance.  An audio recording of the nasty spat that ends in violence between Sandra and Samuel becomes a key exhibit in the trial. It also underpins a probe into the pitfalls of the expectation of reciprocity in a relationship between two temperamentally and culturally different individuals. Samuel is French, Sandra is German. English is their language of communication. What separates Anatomy Of A Fall distinct from other legal dramas is the centrality that it accords to the child caught in the middle. It is on his testimony that his mother’s fate hinges. Is she to be punished for being the woman she is – focused on her work and endowed with the talent and drive to churn out novels at a pace that her husband, a teacher-turned-writer unable to wrap up his first book, probably envies?In a brief exchange during the trial, Zoe Solidor (Camille Rutherford), the student we see in the opening sequence of the film interviewing Sandra for her thesis, objects to being addressed by the judge as “Ms. Solidor”. Do not reduce me to a marital status, she snaps. It is a stray utterance but loaded with great significance.Anatomy Of A Fall puts a bickering couple under a scanner but its primary ambition isn’t limited to merely crafting a legal thriller with a plethora of twists and turns. It is just as intent on presenting the story of a woman who effortlessly puts the man she loves in the shade and sees no value in subjugating her personal aspirations to making the marriage work. It is a film that keeps delivering surprises until its final scene.  The Palme d’Or winner emphatically rearranges the contours of the courtroom drama. It has deservedly earned five Oscar nominations. But it needs no awards to prove its worth. An unqualified triumph. Don’t lose the chance to watch it on the big screen – that is where Anatomy Of A Fall belongs.Cast:Sandra Huller, Swann Arlaud, Antoine Reinartz, Samuel Theis, Jehnny BethDirector:Justine Triet

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