French film festival: Anatomy of a Fall

French Film Festival 2023: Anatomy of a Fall / Anatomie d’une chute,
Directed by Justine Triet.
Starring Sandra Hüller, Swann Arlaud, Milo Machado-Graner, Antoine Reinartz, Samuel Theis, Jehnny Beth

The first movie I caught at this year’s annual French Film Festival (taking place in multiple cities around the UK this month) was Anatomy of a Fall, which bagged director and co-writer Justine Triet the coveted Palme D’or at Cannes (making her only the third female director to win the award, which is not a good look for Cannes, but that’s another story). At first glance you may assume this to be a fairly standard courtroom thriller / whodunnit: a husband in a rocky marriage dies in mysterious circumstances, his wife was the only other person in their mountainside chalet near Grenoble. Was is accidental, a fall while repairing the house? A deliberate suicide? Or a rage-fuelled murder? The suspicions of the authorities fairly inevitably settle on the author wife, Sandra Voyter (Sandra Hüller), and a courtroom battle looms…

Except this does not go the way I thought it might, instead leading us into a far murkier emotional mess of a relationship, of accusations and regrets and arguments. The couple’s world had been upset when her husband, Samuel Maleski (Samuel Theis), busy with other projects (teaching, repairing the house they intended to rent out for more income, trying to get his own writing career going), neglects to pick up their son from school, asking a babysitter to do it at the last minute. Arriving late, the babysitter and their son Daniel (Milo Machado-Graner) are involved in a bad accident, the effects of which leaves the young boy only partially sighted, which leaves simmering resentments and guilt over blame.

Sandra turns to an old friend, Vincent Renzi (Swann Arlaud), who is now a lawyer, for help, as it is clear the police investigating the death do not believe it is an accident. With a prosecution looming, he starts interrogating her himself, trying to establish what could have happened, the state of the couple’s relationship, and bringing in his own forensics experts to counter those of the prosecution. Along the way this slowly drags every murky element of Sandra and Samuel’s life out into the unforgiving glare of the courtroom and public reporting, revealing aspects which do not paint her in the best light, giving ammunition to the prosecutor, who, lacking a smoking gun (so to speak), has to rely on these more circumstantial matters to convince the court of her guilt.

The courtroom drama, which in other hands may have been heavy-handed, or overly dramatic and over-played, here is handled deftly – despite what is going on, you feel sympathy for these characters, as every formerly private piece of their lives is pulled out and aired in public, being used by the prosecution or defence to pillory or defend them. It’s not hard to empathise at these points – even if we had done nothing, had nothing really bad to hide, which of us would want our most private moments with a partner or family or friends open to the scrutiny of total strangers, who will judge you on it? How easily could a heated argument between two people be taken by others later and used as “evidence” against them for other possible actions? How do you defend against that when it means having to tell of less than savoury moments by the other (now deceased) partner, does that make her look better or even worse?

Add in their young boy being dragged into this (he refuses the judge’s request not to be in the courtroom), having to hear all of these details of his parents and their unravelling life prior to his father’s death, and you have a very heady, emotional trip. And then there’s the matter of the audio recording Samuel made secretly when arguing with his wife…

Anatomy eschews the more usual flashback scenes you often get in these kind of films (save for one main scene, quite effectively handled, fading in as we hear the audio recording, then back out to the courtroom at a critical moment, leaving us only hearing the event with the jury, not seeing it, a powerful moment). Triet and Hüller make the brave decision to craft events and two lead characters who are simultaneously vulnerable, evoking sympathy, but at the same time also often quite unlikeable, clearly selfish, driven more by their own motivations and goals than being a couple or family, and this is sustained throughout. I think both deserve kudos for this – it’s no mean feat to give us characters like that, yet still make us emotionally invested in them, and it makes them dramatically more satisfying than a simpler good partner / bad partner dynamic.

It’s a two and a half hour film, but I never felt the length, it never felt like it was dragging, it remained compelling all the way through. A compelling and engrossing French film, deserving the attention it has rightly been receiving.

This review was originally penned for Live For Films

Film fest time

Dominique Pinon at Edinburgh Film Festival 05

I’m enjoying a few days off for my annual Edinburgh International Film Festival fun. Last night at the Traverse Theatre as part of the film fest they had an “in conversation” with French actor Dominique Pinon, who has appeared in a number of my favourite films over the years. One of those evening that reminds me one of the reason I love living here so much is that with our festivals everyone comes to Edinburgh at some point, writers, directors, actors, musicians, they all come here. I took a few photos with the new camera – sitting several rows up and back in a theatre so not the best place for taking photos, but out of the batch I shot a handful came out passably.

Dominique Pinon at Edinburgh Film Festival 07

Dominique Pinon at Edinburgh Film Festival 08

Edinburgh, wet, dark night

I was off at my second home, the Filmhouse this afternoon, to catch some of the annual French Film Festival. I was taking in some short films today; as usual with a collection of shorts, be it movies, prose stories or whatever, it’s a mixed bag, some good, some so-so, some quite interesting, some that seemed meandering and had no point, others that were nice little examples of a brief but well contained tale or experience (because not all of them were narratives). I think my favourites were an old one from the 70s (judging by the film stock and the vehicles. I later found it was actually made in 76), C’était un rendez-vous , which was simply a high speed drive through the streets of Paris as dawn was breaking, coming up the the Place d’Etoile, round the Arc du Triomphe, down the Champs Elysee, Place de la Concord, roar along the Rive Droit alongside the Ports de Lyons gate of the Louvre then turn and through the Louvre (no IM Pei glass pyramid visible back when this was filmed) and eventually, judging by the increasing slops heading into the Montmartre region and stopping near Sacre Couer at the end (I was quite pleased I remembered my Parisian geography and could follow where he was going for the most part). Camera position stays fixed all the way through and the car never stops (alarmingly at some points!), very simple but really cool. Just found what looks like the whole thing on YouTube, so have a look:

I was also drawn to the short films session because they were showing the first short animated work by Sylvain Chomet, creator of two of my favourite animated features, Belleville Rendezvous and The Illusionist. The Old Lady and the Pigeons is a bit rougher than his later films, but still interesting and you can see some of his styles and approaches (the Ralph Steadman influence is visible even here). Fun to see. Again it seems to be available online, so here you go:


La vieille dame et les pigeons
Uploaded by XLanig. – Independent web videos.

Came out the Filmhouse to find night had fallen and the earlier drizzle had turned to much heavier rain, so decided to catch a bus rather than walk home, while I was waiting by the stop outside the Usher Hall I had the urge to take a pic as the area has only recently been opened up again after some construction work revamping it, so the space in front of it is now opened up, with illuminated signs for upcoming events. With the lights reflecting off the wet streets I felt like getting a shot, but lacking the tripod I had to improvise, bracing the camera against a nearby post, so it isn’t quite as sharp as I’d like, but you take what you can get. Colour didn’t work well for it, but black and white seemed to suit it much better:

waiting for a bus

and while I was at it I took a quick one of the Usher Hall with it’s brand new modern extension, again with the lights reflecting on the wet paving stones:

Usher Hall, wet November night