Justine Triet's French/English courtroom drama, Anatomy of a Fall, transports you to the gorgeous French Alps. Where the twists and turns, of a winding mountain road leave you teetering between surefire beliefs, and the creeping doubts lodged in the back of your mind. This year's Palme d'Or winner at the Cannes film festival is every bit as mesmerizing as one would want in a drama thriller. Ultimately, pushing it into the upper echelon of movie releases this year.
There's no doubt about it, Anatomy of a Fall is incredible.
The story is simple enough. Sandra (Sandra Hüller), her husband Samuel (Samuel Theis), along with their nearly blind 11 year old son Daniel (Milo Machado Graner) and dog Snoop live in the French Alps. One day while out walking with Snoop, Daniel comes home to find the body of Samuel lying bloodied in the snow. The initial thought of cause of death is a fall from the attic window of the home. However, things get blurred as Sandra was the only one home at the time, and the couple was not without their problems. Eventually, these factors lead to an indictment and a trial in the French justice system as Daniel is the forefront of the story, being the sole witness.
First and foremost, the whole cast of the movie is astounding! Graner's role of Daniel is one of the more difficult in the film and he is simply flawless. The various twists and turns of the film rely on Daniel's motives and doubts being viewed under a microscope. Every slight change in story, emotional response, tearful exchange are pieces of evidence to not only convince the film's jury but every viewer as well. One long shot sequence of Daniel shifting his worried expression back and forth as Sandra's defense attorney Vincent (Swann Arlaud) and the French Avocat Général (Antoine Reinartz) try to clarify his statements. Graner's ability to elevate the emotional fallout of such a procedural moment is outstanding. Of course, Arlaud is also great as Sandra's lawyer but all things considered, this is Sandra Hüller's film.
Hüller is a force to be reckoned with in Anatomy of a Fall. In one of the defining roles this year, and possibly her career, Hüller is perfect. She navigates the treacherous moral compass of her character with delivery, emotion, and pure finesse. Making it impossible to look away as she commands the screen. As she works to persuade everyone around her that she's innocent, you're completely drawn into her stories. Her memories and explanations are impeccably communicated through her performance that at times you hate her, yet you're never fully sure of yourself. Am I supposed to be this critical of her? Or am I supposed to be empathetic to her situation?
These questions are not only the mark of a fantastic performance, but wonderful writing/directing from Triet. The ambiguity with which Sandra and Daniel operate within don't necessarily create massive twists in the plot. But instead, cause the viewer to be in a position of that of a juror. We are the ones being convinced of the events in the story. This is why information is slowly exposed to us, only in the setting of the court room. There's mentions of an incriminating recording but we don't know of its details until we're watching it unfold. The same goes for learning of Sandra's infidelity and sexual orientation, casting doubt over the opening scene in the film where Sandra is interviewed by a student (Camille Rutherford). Was Sandra flirting with the interviewer? Or was she enjoying talking to somebody other than Samuel and Daniel while out in the isolated Alps?
Back and forth points such as this are intricate details that create a whodunnit type of feel to the film. The writing and stylistic direction drives the plot in one direction, while these smaller yet consistent moments cloud our ability to root for the characters. This allows Anatomy of a Fall to be a riveting genre-bending experience that isn't formulaic nor boring. With a runtime of about two and a half hours there is no point where anything is dragged on or extended. Triet's ability to have no fat in such a dense piece is extraordinary. Color in some thematic elements of what a "fall" really means. Falling out of love in a marriage, the out of control feeling of weightlessness as you experience the ramifications of your actions are two great instances of this. Not to mention, you're in the picturesque French Alps where winding roads with sheer drop offs on the side keep the thought of falling seared in your brain.
There's so much more I could dive into - Daniel's accident, Triet's usage of flashbacks and voiceovers, and the fear of losing something completely. But to avoid spoilers I'll simply say, this is definitely a movie you should watch more than once to catch everything.
A fantastic mix of powerhouse performances, incredible writing and directing all come together to create one of the best films of the year in Triet's Anatomy of a Fall. I'm really hoping for a great push from the distributor Neon in the coming months which is another fun point. Neon has been the North American distributor for the past four Palme d'Or winners including this film, Triangle of Sadness, Titane and Parasite. Has Neon struck gold once again with the Cannes winner come this Oscar season?
Who knows, but regardless this movie should be seen. Or should I say, experienced.
Nestled in the Northern Cascades of Washington, sits Snoqualmie Mountain. The Snoqualmie Pass leading up to the mountain, and the aptly named ski area Summit at Snoqualmie Pass, just so happens to also wind by a well placed brewery. Perfect for those post-ski beers, or pre-ski beers is one of the Dru Bru taprooms. It is only fitting that a film centered around falling, located in the beauty of the French Alps inspires the beer selection from a brewery not too far off. Thematically speaking that is. I'm no cartographer but the physical distance is daunting, so just stick with me metaphorically here.
A complex and incredible film deserves a beer of similar quality. Dru Bru's Black Lager is certainly up for the task here. This German style schwarzbier is delightfully light while packing in that roasted flavor, perfect for some cold snowy days. A slight toffee aroma/taste adds a nice depth to the beer and makes it much more enjoyable. Throw in a little caramel and a gorgeous dark pour and you've got yourself a perfect companion for Hüller's powerhouse performance alongside Triet's breathtaking film.