Friday, October 27, 2023

Whodunit –and Why? “Anatomy of a Fall”

Having just seen, at long last, the classic courtroom drama Anatomy of a Murder, I couldn’t resist checking out a new French film with a deliberately similar title, Anatomy of a Fall. (In the original French, it’s Anatomie d’une chute). This Justine Trier film, which took top honors at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, also focuses on a emotionally fraught murder trial. But the emphasis here is less on cunning legal maneuvering than on the complex question of motive.  Exactly what, we wonder, is behind the sudden death of a man in the prime of life?  

 One of the pleasures of watching foreign movies is discovering actors for whom you have no prior associations. The blonde and slightly zoftig German actress at the center of Anatomy of a Fall, Sandra Hüller, was  brand-new to me. (No, I never saw Toni Erdmann, for which she won several awards back in 2016.) In the French film she’s a successful novelist who’s also a wife and mom. I sensed that, as portrayed by Hüller,  she’s an amiable presence within her picturesque mountain community, coolly self-possessed, someone well suited to shrugging off the disturbances of domestic life. Her seemingly mild, calm personality tended to put me on her side from start to finish. I might not have regarded her so unconditionally if I’d seen Hüller’s second film this past year, The Zone of Interest. She has just received a Gotham Awards nomination for this German-language movie, in which she plays the supportive wife of the Nazi commandant of Auschwitz.

 The film critics of the Los Angeles Times, big fans of this film, have noted that it was written by a domestic team:  Justine Trier collaborated with her longtime romantic partner, Arthur Harari, on the script. Since the couple has two children together, they are surely well aware of the stresses and strains within even the most successful marriage. They insist they have never been tempted to kill one another, but their script contains a key scene, introduced as a recording in the courtroom, that bluntly underscores the anger that can arise between two marrieds (one a successful writer and one still struggling at the craft) who discover they are not always on the same page.   

 A key character in the triangle of sorts that is their marriage is their pre-teen son, Daniel. A tragic accident a few years back has left him essentially blind, but despite this challenge he’s a keen observer of his surroundings. His father’s fatal fall from a window in their rustic chalet’s attic puts Daniel in the terrible position of having to choose sides. As we learn, Daniel’s parents responded to his permanent disability in characteristic ways. His father, who deeply felt (unwarranted) guilt about the lead-up to the accident, chose to devote himself wholeheartedly to the boy, including sidestepping his own ambitions to tutor Daniel full-time at home.  His mother, in line with her pragmatic approach to life,, has been matter-of-fact about his changed circumstances and has trusted him to make his own way through the crisis. Now that Daniel’s father is dead and his mother is on trial for his murder, it’s up to Daniel to figure out (with the help of a dog named Snoop) what he believes happened. Young Milo Machado Graner shines in this tricky role. He’s a pleasure to look at (where do filmmakers find these beautiful kids?), and when his character takes center stage in that courtroom, he’s more than ready for his close-up.


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