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Sandra Holler in Justine Triet’s Mystery – The Hollywood Reporter


The latest proof that today’s most interesting French films are being directed by women, Justine Triet Anatomy of a Fall It represents an exciting step forward for a director who seems poised for greater international recognition.

Starring Sandra Höller, a German novelist on trial for her husband’s murder, this second Cannes Triet (after 2019) Divination) is a gripping and satisfyingly rich drama: part legal procedural, part complex portrait of a woman, part snapshot of a marriage on the brink, and part coming-of-age story. Fall Anatomy It is, above all, about the fundamental ignorance of the person, the relationship, and the dangerous impossibility of trying to understand–whether it be a child baffling his parents or a courtroom struggling to understand a mysterious suspect. In other words, it is a film concerned with storytelling—the stories we tell others about ourselves and those we tell ourselves as individuals and as a society about others.

Fall Anatomy

bottom line

A director and actress at her peak.

place: Cannes Film Festival (Competition)
Throw: Sandra Holler, Swann Arlaud, Milo Machado Graner, Antoine Reynarts, Samuel Theiss, Jenny Beth
exit: Justin Treat
Screenwriter: Justin Triet, Arthur Harari

2 hours 30 minutes

If the faintest whiff of “Why is this movie, now, from this director?” hopping early, Fall Anatomy It ultimately serves as a corrective measure to the excitement and delight in so much crime-themed content these days. This is a subtle piece of work, that resists the sexy, kabuki-like quality that characterizes even “prestige” efforts like recent HBO the stairs (Based on a real-life case that shares outline and some details with the fictional case here). The film also makes a subtle but pointed rebuke to France’s entrenched – perhaps surprising to some – conservative culture, particularly when it comes to sexuality and family.

It’s a low flex method from Triet. both of them Divination (in which Hüller played an amusing supporting role) and Fall Anatomy It is about women writers whose instinctive refusal to be confined to a convention lands them in hot water. But the previous film blended bedroom farce, melodrama, noir, and erotic thriller with absurd abandon that was more fun in theory than practice. Fall Anatomy is a more enjoyable watch – a little ironic, given the film’s serious subject matter, no-nonsense directorial control and commitment to plausibility. Although she makes the story her own, Triet isn’t trying to do anything wild here, which proves his wisdom; Why mess with this juicy stuff or behind the scenes of such a phenomenal actress?

Co-written by Tritt and Arthur Harari, the film opens in a chalet in a snowy suburb of Grenoble in the French Alps. Sandra (Höller), a 40-something German writer who lives there with her French husband Samuel (Samuel Theiss) and their 11-year-old son Daniel (Milo Machado Graner), is interviewed by a graduate student (Camille Rutherford).

Suddenly, music – an instrumental version of 50 Cent’s “PIMP”, begins blasting from Samuel’s attic desk, making it impossible to continue with the interview. It’s an unmistakably provocative gesture, suggesting a marriage steeped in petty hostility, and Sandra’s apparent annoyance at her efforts to get rid of him. She says goodbye to the student and heads upstairs, while Daniel—whose vision has been impaired by an accident years earlier—takes his dog for a walk. When the boy returns, his father is dead on the floor outside the house, blood pooling under his head (and 50 Cent still exploding for a loop).

Did Samuel jump out of the attic window? Or fall? Did Sandra push him? These questions build up the film’s high tension, though Triet is less interested in answers than in the lack of them, and the effect of uncertainty—not knowing how or why Samuel died—on the devastated young Daniel, who becomes a kind of surrogate for the viewer. “I have to understand,” he says, his voice broken into tears.

Fall Anatomy He is incisive in his depiction of the legal system’s tendency to fill in the blanks of a case with assumptions and fantasies, here often of a sexual nature. But what so hauntingly haunts the film, and which gives it obsessive shuddering responsibility, is the question of how Sandra is perceived. She maintains her innocence, though she doesn’t have an alibi or tick the boxes of the usual wrongfully accused hero. And most importantly, the director does not give us any guarantees, that is, privileged access to information that would allow us to form a truly confident opinion.

Haller is such a lively and nuanced performer that we understand Sandra, the intellectual who negotiated the terms of domestic life to make it work for her. But Richard Kimble is not. We can’t be certainly What Sandra did or didn’t do, and Treat challenges us to accept that without giving up on her. In most films it depends on the suspense of whether the main character is guilty or innocent – Hitchcock suspicion to Nicholas Ray in a lonely place to jagged edge And Basic instinct – There is a measure of comfort, the protagonist of which we can take refuge. not here.

The pervasive sense of mystery extends to Sandra’s relationship with her lawyer, Vincent (Swan Arlaud, beautifully understated), an old friend who comes to her aid but may be satisfying ulterior motives – or at least unspoken feelings – of his own. When she tells him her side of the story, Sandra appears to be protective of Samuel, a frustrated writer and part-time teacher, assuring he would not have killed himself. But with an inconclusive autopsy—his death could have been caused by either hitting the ground or a blow to the head prior to a fall—Vincent notes that the suicide hypothesis is the safer defence.

Cracks multiply in Sandra’s case, some suggesting she wasn’t quite forthcoming: bruises on her arm consistent with a struggle; analysis of bloodstains that infer violence; inconsistencies in Daniel’s account of events; An audio recording of Sandra and Samuel’s fight the day before his death is discovered.

There are also logistical characteristics. With Daniel taking the stand but living under the care of the accused, a state-appointed escort, Marge (Jenny Beth), is sent to essentially look after him, ensuring that Sandra does not influence his testimony. The bond of trust that Daniel and Marge gradually build in the background stands in quiet contrast to the widening distance between the boy and his mother.

Trial scenes unfold with fixation of authenticity. Although Treett nods slyly at metaphors of this sort—the imperious prosecutor (Antoine Reinartz, excellent), the hardened judge (Ann Rutter), the zealous expert witnesses, the eleventh-hour revelation—none is amplified or unfairly highlighted. artificial. Absent are the moment-inducing hurdles and mounting difficulties of righteous indignation that are hallmarks of such American courtroom classics as Anatomy of a murderAnd The verdict And Witness the prosecution (Not to mention the court theatrical model, Some good men).

instead of, anatomy It focuses on the slippery interplay between the personality and the legal process—the ways in which the latter conceals and distorts the former, as well as the ways in which the former accommodates the latter. Hüller exudes a prickly wit, but makes you wonder – through subtle differences in tone and expression – if Sandra is toning down her personality a bit on and off the field, playing the game you need to play once you realize what’s at stake. The actress also identifies Sandra’s real weakness: although she is fluent in English and French, she is still – she said – a stranger in France, unable to explain herself in her native language.

Sandra’s misunderstood feelings come to a head when the court turns to her marriage, a once-electric connection eroded by professional rivalry, sexual jealousy, and everyday and existential pressures. The only flashback we get of the couple – a dispute in which long-simmering resentments boil over to an angry boil – is among the most compelling and disturbing scenes of marital strife I’ve seen on screen. Theis plays Samuel with terrifying agonizing pain, while Hollier shows us a woman wavering between desperation to save her relationship and anger at the prospect of curbing her ambition to accommodate her husband’s wounded ego.

Working with DP Simon Beaufils, Triet shoots in a style of dynamic realism and is a high-wire balancing act: the film doesn’t play with our sympathy, nor does it feel clinical or detached thanks to fluid shifts in perspective that bring us closer to the characters in distress – especially Daniel. In one scene, the camera pans back and forth with Daniel in the middle as attorneys argue over his testimony; In another, as the boy listens to a detective assuming Samuel was murdered, the screen flashes with images of Sandra hitting him.

These powerful moments position Daniel as the film’s emerging emotional compass, and Graner agonizing as a child at an agonizing adult crossroads. Without wagging fingers or exaggerating, Triet points out the uncomfortable necessity of living in and with the gray area—for its characters and viewers alike. By guiding us through the morass of elusive memories, ever-evolving accounts, and unreliable narrators in this brilliant and highly intelligent film, she accomplishes the hardest feat of all: earning our full and utter trust.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.