|Synopsis||When a dead body is discovered, the law struggles to determine whether the man committed suicide or was murdered by his wife.|
|Length||2 hours, 31 minutes|
|Release Date||21 May 2023 (Cannes), 23 August 2023 (France)|
|Writing||Justine Triet, Arthur Harari|
|Starring||Sandra Hüller, Swann Arlaud, Milo Machado-Graner, Antoine Reinartz, Samuel Theis, Jehnny Beth, Saadia Bentaieb, Camille Rutherford, Anne Rotger, Sophie Fillières|
The fall movie season is already starting to pick up with limited-release movies, prestige dramas, and foreign films beginning to make their appearances in theaters and on streaming. Among the more talked about films of late—which have included The Holdovers, Maestro, May December, Poor Things, and American Fiction—is a French crime thriller that has piqued the interest of the few cinephiles who have had the opportunity to see it yet.
Violence/Scary Images: A bloody dead body is discovered. Examination of his body shows a large head wound. Recreations of his death are depicted. Two characters have a violent argument that escalates to physical violence.
Language/Crude Humor: Some severe language throughout the film.
Drug/Alcohol References: Characters drink alcohol frequently.
Sexual Content: A partially naked dead body is depicted. There are also references to sexuality, marital infidelity, and sexual activity. One character is described as bisexual.
Spiritual Content: None.
Other Negative Content: Some post-modern thematic implications.
Positive Content: Gripping story about the nature of truth.
A man has fallen from a two-story drop, from the window to the icy ground below. His bloody body is cold and motionless, and a large wound leaks blood onto the ground from the side of his head, with a small trail of blood around his legs showing he was briefly conscious after he brutally hit the ground. The window above him is open, loud music is blaring, and it becomes clear that he has just had a fight with his wife. The only possible witness to his death is their partially blind son, who was out taking his dog on a walk at the time he died but was the first to discover the body.
When the French police arrive, this much is obvious. This small family of intelligent, well-connected intellectuals and artists live somewhat off the beaten path, requiring 30 minutes for emergency services to arrive and assess the situation. By the time toxicology has analyzed the body, they simply know that the victim wasn’t drunk and that what transpired was likely not an accident, with this man just falling out an open window. This only leaves two options—he was murdered or he killed himself.
Anatomy of a Fall is one of the most powerful films to be released this year, both in its presentation and its thematic implications. It could also be said to be a somewhat thematically troubling film—a postmodern masterpiece about the unknowability of ultimate truth and the power of flawed humans to craft falsities in the absence of knowledge. But it is also presented with such attention to detail and intrigue that it cannot help but be compelling.
The film is billed as something of a Hitchcockian procedural, but at times the movie almost comes off as a true crime story. I wondered repeatedly throughout my screening if this was based on a true story, given its intense attention to forensic detail and narrative complexity. But no, it is an original film by French filmmaker Justine Triet—a European film festival darling who finally received the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for this film.
The film itself is disquietingly vague about the ultimate truth behind the story. The audience is largely kept in the dark about what happened, and we are left to interpret the truth based on the unfurling drama of lies, revealed truths, and complicated motivations that grow only more complicated. The most likely murderer appears to have weak motivation for committing a crime, but alternative explanations are also unsatisfying.
A cathartic answer would certainly be satisfying, but the film is ultimately disinterested in the final answer because it can never fully and truthfully be told by these characters. They’re all unreliable narrators and motivated to spin the story in their own favor. If our female protagonist did commit the murder, she is never going to admit it to the court or her family. If she didn’t, she could never fully explain herself and make that truth known.
As in most postmodernist stories, Anatomy of a Fall becomes a drama of competing narratives. The prosecution spins a narrative of an angry wife throwing her own husband off a balcony in revenge. But her defender spins another yarn about a dissatisfied artist ending his own life after years of unhappiness and failure. Both of these narratives contain elements of truth but the fullness of that truth is buried under narratives. The only person in the room who fully knows the truth is motivated solely to keep herself out of jail, regardless of which side is accurate.
The only fully honest character in the film is her son, who stands in as something of an audience surrogate character most dearly effected by the events, given that he loses his own father and loses the ability to trust his mother’s perspective due to the unknowability of her testimony. He is deeply torn apart by the drama as it unfolds, both obsessed with needing to know the truth about the traumatic death of his father and needing to know if his mother is culpable. Unfortunately, the slow unveiling of knowledge also hurts him as he comes to see the fullness of the flaws of his parents, nearly resulting in a judge removing him from court for his own good.
Anatomy of a Fall is one of the most gripping films of this year and paints a very stressful and disquieting picture of the nature of objective truth. It can be a difficult watch at points, and its ending leaves more of an open wound than a sense of fulfillment. It is a movie that can make an audience member question their own assumptions, as we have to see who we are prejudiced against and for what reason. It is certainly a testament to a society’s struggles with ultimate unknowability and moral confusion in the secular world.
+ Powerful performances
+ Incredible suspenseful script
+ Fascinating thematic implications
- Post-Modern implications and a rejection of objective truth
The Bottom Line
Anatomy of a Fall is one of the best films of the year, and offers a potent and bleak vision of the world where the nature of truth is a difficult thing to determine.