Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Anatomy of a Fall: An Intellectual Dissection of a Broken Marriage

 By José Alberto Hermosillo 

"Anatomy of a Fall" is a sublime, thrilling, and transcendental modern work of art - masterfully written, directed, performed, photographed, and edited.
The family courtroom drama focuses on a freak accident, its repercussions, and the unsettled battle of the sexes continuing after death.

The 2023 Palme d'Or winner contains three familiar and robust characters who speak in different languages - French, German, and English, as common ground. Despite their blood ties, the three members of the family are drawn into life-changing circumstances where death, entrapment, and murder play a significant role in their lives. But absolutely none of them plays the victim in this well-rounded, multi-layered story.
Up in the snowy mountains of Grenoble, France, the apparently harmonious family composed of a successful and busy German author named Sandra Voyter (Sandra Hüller), a frustrated French writer/teacher, Samuel Moleski (Samuel Theis), and their son Daniel (Milo Machado-Graner).
Milo Machado-Graner is a young and promising actor with a successful career in French movies such as "Stuck Together" and "Waiting for Bojangles." The talented actor is extraordinary in "Anatomy of a Fall." He portrays a legally bling, independent teenager who likes to hike with his service dog, Messi, on the snowy trails of the Dauphine Alps, where they live.
Later in the film, we learn that the intellectual couple constantly fights because they blame each other for their child's accident that left him with impaired vision and how to manage their "precious time" to take care of their eleven-year-old son. 
Because of the accident, Daniel developed a high sensitivity to light exposure, which made him partially blind. He is independent but still needs adult supervision. Regardless of his impediment, Daniel plays the piano beautifully and walks daily by the mountain trail with his trained dog.
The dog Messi from "Anatomy of a Fall" at the Oscar Luncheon.
Le chien, Messi has been recognized as the absolute winner of the "Palm Dog" Award for his performance in this movie during this past edition of the Cannes Film Festival. He is making big waves on the red carpets in Hollywood during the 2024 award season.
After Samuel's tragic death, Daniel continued his piano lesson rehearsing "Asturias" (Leyenda), which was composed by Issac Albéniz. The strident music played during "The Fall" and replayed during the gathering of evidence is bringing more confusion and chaos. The music is recurrent and a pivotal part of the narrative.
"Anatomy of a Fall" is divided into three structural parts, the day of the accident, the trial, and the unexpected resolution.
The film cleverly builds tension in some scenes; in others, it lingers through the beauty of the natural locations thanks to Simon Beaufils's gorgeous cinematography ("My Donkey, My Lover, and I," "Knife + Heart).
After the "fall," the trial is immediate. The pace of the film progresses rapidly, as the family has no time to grieve. Furthermore, we see the wife in the house training with her lawyer on what to say or not to say before the trial and how she has to justify the bruises on her arm.
After examining all the evidence and collecting the people's statements, the prosecutors find some discrepancies that may alter the cause of death, whether the case can be considered an accident or murder. Even though the film clearly stipulates the legal repercussions of the "questionable death" happened a year later.
The prosecutors found the husband's recordings with some of the most recent couple's fights playing in the courtroom. That surprisingly new piece of incriminating evidence may point against the famous writer.
The struggle between the two writers becomes a battle of the sexes, with the evident husband's frustration with his wife's success making him look like he is igniting and manipulating those intense discussions. 
The recordings were made without her consent or knowledge, which is considered illegal in some States of the United States. Still, in France, they are used as contentious proof of the couple's instability.

In European films, children are usually treated as adults, no matter how complex or disturbing situations they have to endure. The legally blind boy becomes the key witness in the case. 
For a child, it is devastating to lose his father, witness his mother's trial, listen to the recordings of his parents' fights in court, and give his crucial testimony that may incriminate or save his mother.
Testifying as an adult makes Daniel aware of the situation, and he must decide whether he would like to save his mother or help the prosecutor bring her to justice.

The performance by German actress Sandra Hüller ("The Zone of Interest," "I'm Your Man," "Toni Erdmann") is impressive. She displays a wide range of emotions, and even when she lies, we think she is telling the truth.
In "Anatomy of a Fall," French director Justine Trier cleverly plays with the perception of the truth according to each player's needs, interests, and points of view. Justine Trier graduated from the Paris School of Fine Arts and is an Oscar nominee for Best Director; she has an extraordinary filmmaking career with solid previous projects such as "The Age of Panic," "Sibyl," and "Victoria." In all her films, she has three recurrent topics: family, writers, and legal matters.
Justine Triet, Palme d'Or Winner, Cannes 2023. Photo: Par Par Francois BECKER et © 2023 AFP

With the theory of the phenomenon of the unreliability of the eyewitness, "Anatomy of a Fall" can be related to Akira Kurosawa's "Rashomon." A few years later, in 1964, Hollywood came out with the remake of the Japanese classic called "The Outrage" with Paul Newman. This particular Western, directed by Martin Ritt ("Hud," "Hombre," and "Norman Rae"), is another clear example of how the truth can be distorted according to the witnesses' point of view, background, beliefs, and personal experiences.
In 1957, Sidney Lumet's "12 Angry Men" rounded off the perceptions of twelve jury members who had to deliver the conviction or acquittal of an eighteen-year-old boy accused of murder. They had reasonable doubts and concluded that there was not enough hard evidence to prove the boy's guilt.
Since its premiere in Cannes, "Anatomy of a Fall" has collected numerous awards worldwide. In the US, the film has been nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Editing.
In France, the film won six César Awards, including Best Picture. In England, it won the BAFTA Award for Best Original Screenplay. In Spain, it won Best European Film at the Goya's Ceremony, and the list of recognitions for the French/Germain join goes on.
In this legal matter, winning or losing the case in court would not bring peace to the souls of the people involved. Still, it raises more questions about what is next when they lose someone they love in a freak accident and if the accident was intentionally planned or a successful suicide attempt. It all is up to the viewer to figure out what really happened.
Regardless of any conspiracy theory, the film is open to the public interpretation. Let "Anatomy of a Fall" sit for a while to process an unforgettable film that is making big waves around the world for its enormous quality in storytelling.
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