Anatomy of a Fall

Verdict: Anatomy of a Fall is a clever, gripping courtroom thriller with extraordinary writing and performances.

  • Sandra Huller, Swann Arland, Samuel Theis
  • November 10th 2023
  • Justine Triet

A German novelist stands accused of killing her husband by pushing him off a balcony of their home.

Justine Triet’s courtroom drama, Anatomy of a Fall, won the Cannes Film Festival’s most coveted prize – the Palme d’Or – earlier this year and now we can finally find out what all the acclaim is about.

The movie centres upon German novelist Sandra (Sandra Hüller), who lives with her French writer/teacher husband Samuel (Samuel Theis) and their 11-year-old visually impaired son Daniel (Milo Machado-Graner) in Samuel’s hometown of Grenoble.

One day, Daniel returns to their chalet after walking the dog and finds Samuel dead outside the house with a severe head injury.

Did he jump from the building or was he pushed? As Sandra was the only one home at the time and the death doesn’t seem accidental, she stands trial accused of killing her husband.

The film follows the standard procedural beats – the autopsy, witness testimonies, reconstructions of Samuel’s fall and then, of course, the trial. It could have been very stale, particularly given its 152-minute runtime, but it is always gripping and compelling.

The script is cleverly constructed and doesn’t tell us everything right away – we have to patiently wait as the secrets in Sandra and Samuel’s marriage are slowly revealed throughout Sandra’s conversations with her defence lawyer Vincent (Swann Arlaud) and the trial.

There is also a standout flashback scene depicting the couple having a wide-ranging argument about many issues; it is so juicy and well-written.

Daniel is put in an awkward position because he is the only witness. He also wants to be present in the room throughout the trial so he hears of all his parents’ dirty laundry.

Just like Daniel, the audience doesn’t know the truth and you’ll find Sandra guilty in one scene and innocent in another. It is not obvious and it’s hard to settle upon a definitive answer.

Triet doesn’t help us in this regard – we are kept in the dark just like the jurors, who have to reach a verdict based on what has been presented during the trial.

Hüller has been touted for an Oscar nomination for her powerful but surprisingly understated performance. While she is brilliant, her character feels cold and distant because we aren’t allowed to know her fully.

Machado-Graner plays a much more relatable and sympathetic character with Daniel. He knows he has the power to save his mum or put her in prison and he doesn’t know what to do with it.

The weight of that responsibility visibly bears down on him as the film progresses and his emotional acting is very impressive.

Anatomy of a Fall is a clever, gripping courtroom thriller with extraordinary writing and performances.

In cinemas from Friday 10th November.

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