The winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year, knotty legal drama Anatomy Of A Fall grips throughout with its intelligent, ambiguous twists and turns offering far more than a straightforward courtroom procedural. Sandra Hüller plays a writer, also named Sandra and living in the French Alps with her wannabe writer husband (played by Samuel Theis) and blind son (Milo Machado Graner). The film opens with Hüller trying to conduct an interview but drowned out by 50 Cent’s P.I.M.P on an apparent loop: it’s music her husband plays as he tries to renovate their chalet.
The journalist leaves, her son goes out for a walk with his guide dog Snoop, and on his return discovers his father’s dead body on the snow below the window where he had been working three storeys up. Did he fall? Accident, suicide or murder? The film explores all the angles, with Hüller soon accused of murder; she was in the house but – thanks to the blaring Fiddy, she says – apparently heard nothing. Is there more going on here? Yes – a lot more.
The relationship between husband and wife is seen to be fraught with complication, from frustrated creativity and accusations of plagiarism to blame about their son’s blindness. Triet, Anatomy Of A Fall’s director and co-writer (with Arthur Harari), keeps the balls perpetually airborne – and in three languages, namely English, French and German. Hüller, so good in the German film Toni Erdmann, is superb as a wife under suspicion: a caring mother, ambitious and pragmatic. An argument between her and her husband is blisteringly brilliant – initially heard on tape, we soon see its visual enactment, which has ripple effects for her plight.
The gender politics are thorny, with the needs of a marriage given winning depth, as is some casual misogyny. Triet keeps a tight hold on the courtroom scenes – tense and forensic, here Swann Arlaud is likeable as Sandra’s defence lawyer (the pair share some flirtatious history). Graner is also fantastic, a blind son who wrestles with his mother’s potential guilt or innocence, the case riding on his testimony.
The director brings complexity to every scene, helped by Hüller’s tremendously enigmatic performance – both simultaneously cold and passionate, and understandably human. There’s even a brilliant performance from Messi the dog, as Snoop… Nuanced and immersive, Anatomy Of A Fall is an accomplished drama, unwilling to take the easy path.
Dir: Justine Triet (15, 152 mins)
Anatomy Of A Fall is in cinemas from Fri 10 Nov
words KEIRON SELF