Oscar 2024: Hooray for Justine Triet’s “Anatomy of a Fall”

This morning Anatomy of a Fall – directed and co-written by Justine Triet – received FIVE Oscar nominations in the following categories:

  • Best Motion Picture of the Year
  • Best Achievement in Directing
  • Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
  • Best Original Screenplay
  • Best Achievement in Film Editing

Last May, Justine Triet, won the 2023 Cannes Film Festival’s Palm d’Or and earlier this month Anatomy of a Fall won the 2024 Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture (Non-English Language). Also, today, Anatomy of a Fall received ELEVEN César nominations from the Académie des Arts et Techniques du Cinéma in Paris.

In between, Anatomy of a Fall has been nominated for Best Picture and/or Best International Feature by critics organizations all around the world, and Justine Triet has been nominated for numerous Best Director &/or Best Original Screenplay awards.

So, surely you all want to know what FF2 thinks of Anatomy of a Fall, right?

WE LOVE IT!

In fact, we prepared this review way back in October (when Anatomy of a Fall was first released in multiple Metro NYC theaters), but we waited until today to post – when we knew most of YOU would ask – fully confident that THIS day would come 😊

‘Anatomy of a Fall,’ Where to Turn When Logic Fails Us?

 

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In the secluded confines of an alpine chalet near Grenoble (France), a man suddenly falls from a window, igniting a perplexing exploration of the human psyche. The narrative – a meticulous examination of emotional loss filtered through the distorting lens of biases and perceptions – delves into the intricate depths of the creative process. What begins as an unfortunate incident, morphs into a labyrinthine examination of cross-cultural chaos, where logic and emotion collide in a relentless pursuit of the so-called truth.

Directed by Justine Triet and co-written by Justine and Arthur Harari, Anatomy of a Fall centers on two individuals: a writer named Sandra (Sandra Hüller), who is put on trial as the main suspect when her husband Samuel suddenly dies, and their young son Daniel (Milo Machado Graner) who – even though partially blind – was the only witness to his father’s death. (KIZJ: 5/5)

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“Sandra Voyter” (Sandra Hüller) – a successful German-born author – is currently living in a chalet in the French Alps in her husband Samuel’s hometown near Grenoble. She is in the middle of a face-to-face interview with a much younger journalist when their son “Daniel” (Milo Machado Graner) begins preparing for his usual walk with their dog Snoop.

Wine glass in hand, Sandra continues her interview in a relaxed and somewhat flirtatious manner. But soon after Daniel and Snoop leave, an instrumental version of 50 Cent’s “P.I.M.P” suddenly starts playing somewhere above them in the upper floors of the house. The song is on repeat, and the sound is aggressive, intrusive, and annoying. Sandra gets the message; she apologizes and postpones the completion of the interview to a later date. The journalist flees.

A short while later, Daniel comes back to the chalet and finds his father – “Samuel Maleski” (Samuel Theis) lying in the snow… dead. How did Samuel get from the attic – where he had been working – all the way down to the ground? His head has bloody wound, and some blood is also splattered on a shed nearby, but, otherwise, there are no obvious clues.

From this point forward, Anatomy of a Fall becomes an investigation into Samuel’s death and its various possible causes. Was this the suicide of a depressed man? Was this the result of a push from someone with murderous intent? Was this simply an accident?

..the courtroom setting is an ingenious set-up for the unraveling of a complex character…

On the surface, Anatomy of a Fall is a movie about the dynamic of a marriage and how an accident causing the partial blindness of their child affected this couple over the years. Yet, when delving deeper, the courtroom setting is an ingenious set-up for the unraveling of a complex character.

After many replays of the film in my head following my screening, the two themes that stand out are perspective and judgment. The filmmaker – a writer herself – is not only presenting a suspect accused of a crime, but also everything this particular suspect represents; she is a wife, a mother, a bisexual woman, and a writer of popular novels.

The fact that Sandra and her husband Samuel both work as writers (a profession in which fiction is often influenced by the facts of real life) shines a light on the ambiguous boundary between fact and fiction. The constant cross examination in the courtroom gives rise to a pop culture scrutiny that’s less about Sandra’s actions, and more about her identity, her morality, and how she – as a writer – thinks.

Most people really don’t understand what writers actually do (neither those in her courtroom onscreen nor in our audience offscreen), so Justine turns our attention to the way that Sandra and her husband Samuel draw inspiration not just from their own lives, but also from one another. By observing their relationship (which blends the personal and professional), we are led to question the point at which an intriguing idea in one mind may be used – stolen? – by another. We – the members of Justine’s audience – explore how the writing process differs between these two partners from the POV of all the cool, supposedly logical eyes in the courtroom.

But the creative process is not a scientific method that can be dissected and analyzed objectively, and Justine shows us this with great success. The courtroom scenes, as well as parts of the police investigation, are filmed in a style that resembles documentary filmmaking (another medium, much like writing, in which the boundary between fact and fiction will always be elusive for the viewer). The artist – be she an author and/or a filmmaker – chooses both the perspective from which her story is told and the way in which she will frame it.

…a writer who kills her husband is simply more interesting than a teacher who kills himself…

Near the end of Anatomy of a Fall, a popular talk show host casually opines – as if it were obvious to all – that “a writer who kills her husband is simply more interesting than a teacher who kills himself.” This is yet another way Justine makes us think about the framing of the stories that we – in the audience – consume every day.

The camerawork by Director of Photography Simon Beaufils reinforces the issues of perspective and judgment, creating an uneasy sense of suspicion. For example, when Sandra’s lawyer, “Maître Vincent Renzi” (Swann Arlaud), goes up to the attic, we see what he sees as he looks from the window to the place of Samuel’s death below him, and then we see what Sandra sees as she watches the lawyer, and then we are shown a wider shot of them both from behind – a vivid reminder that everyone is always being watched, and that our job (be it in the courtroom or in the theater) is to observe every detail being shown on the screen. We even see what the camera “sees” after the police attempt to reenact “the crime” at the scene.

Hopping between feeling close to the characters’ thoughts and then feeling like a distant, judging observer always keeps us on our toes. At one point Renzi (Sandra’s lawyer) says to her: “You need to start seeing yourself the way others see you. The trial is not about the truth.” That comment started me wondering. How had I been seeing Sandra up until this point? What was “the truth”?

Although Anatomy of a Fall is over 2 1/2 hours long, it kept my interest throughout because each piece of dialogue and every new character made me re-question my earlier assumptions. In a way that reminds me of the Rashomon Effect – named for Akira Kurosawa’s film Rashomon (1950) – no single narrative or account from a witness can be fully trusted, even in a courtroom. We must all weigh up everything we have seen and heard, and come to own conclusions about Sandra.

Maybe I simply didn’t want Sandra to be the one in the wrong?

In doing so, we are also forced to face our own biases. I myself began to question if, despite “the facts” presented by the prosecutor, I wanted to believe in Sandra’s innocence? She was a woman with a successful career, married to a spouse who was floundering. Maybe I simply didn’t want her to be the one in the wrong?

I felt my bias as a woman further challenged when I began to identify with Samuel (the husband) as well. Somewhere in the middle of the film, I found myself thinking that it was entirely possible that Justine had written a character with a marriage dynamic that would have been too stereotypical the other way round. The Sandra character – as crafted by Justine and her team – is neither progressive nor political in any overt way. Yes, Sandra is smart, strong, and caring, but she’s also very flawed, and to me she seemed natural, true, and entirely believable. We see her not just as a mother but as an uncompromising writer. She is a partner who knows what she wants, a logical, but fair person, and someone who does not flee from confrontation. Nevertheless, I was always questioning Sandra’s personality and her motives, her innocence and her guilt.

I cannot emphasize enough how utterly engaging Sandra Hüller’s performance is. She is in almost every scene, and she holds the center with a mighty grip. Even when she’s surprised (say by the sudden appearance of a mysterious audio tape), somehow, it still always feels like Sandra – the character – remains one step ahead.

Milo Machado Graner as Daniel (the son) also has a pivotal role in the story. Every so often, the audience is shown a shot of Daniel as he tries to digest all the new information he’s receiving about his parents. It’s a reminder that Daniel is also one of the many people who are watching and judging his mother. Milo’s performance is emotional, raw, and definitely worthy of praise.

Filmmaker Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall is a masterpiece.

Filmmaker Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall is a masterpiece. It is one of the best movies I have seen this year, both visually and in its writing. It’s layered with judgments from different perspectives; it constantly challenges biases; and it opens up an investigation into the creative process. What is fact and what is fiction? What is inspiration and what is theft? What is “truth” and who is to say?

Anatomy of a Fall demanded that I think, long after the film had ended, about my own biases, how I pass judgment on myself and on others, and how limiting a single perspective can be. This film is about the complexities and contradictions of being human, and about art and the question of where to turn when logic fails us in our search for “the truth.”

© Katusha Jin (10/27/23) – Special for FF2 Media®

LEARN MORE/DO MORE

France’s 2024 Cesar nominations were also announced today. Anatomy of a Fall received ELEVEN nominations. The Taste of Things – France’s official candidate for the 2024 Oscar – received THREE (Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design & Best Production Design). Unfortunately, France nominated The Taste of Things – not Anatomy of a Fall – as their candidate for the Best International Film Oscar, which is why Anatomy of a Fall was not nominated for Best International Film today (robbing it of a chance at an Oscar that it quite likely would have won).

Message from FF2 Media to members of the Academie des Arts et Techniques du Cinema:

Se couper le nez pour contrarier ton visage!

(This is the French equivalent for the English aphorism “Cutting off your nose to spite your face!”)

Click here to unpack the reference to Akira Kurosawa’s film Rashomon (1950) if needed. (It may well be a 20th century touchstone, but perhaps it’s also a bit dated at this point?)

Click here for streaming options on JustWatch.

Click here for cast/crew details plus trailers on IMDb.

CREDITS & PERMISSIONS

Featured Photo: Justine Triet poses with The Palme D’Or Award for Anatomy of a Fall during the Palme D’Or winners photocall at the 76th annual Cannes film festival at Palais des Festivals on May 27, 2023 in Cannes, France. Photo Credit: Franck Castel / Abaca Press / Alamy Stock Photo. Image ID: 2R4FEBY

Middle Photo: Sandra Hüller as “Sandra Voyter” – a native German-speaker (also fluent in English), who suddenly finds herself trapped in a court room in Grenoble (France) trying to express herself in French.

Bottom Photo: Sandra Hüller as “Sandra Voyter” with “Snoop” (played by Messi). Messi was the winner of the “Palm Dog” award at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival!

Stills from Anatomy of a Fall (credited to photographer Carole Bethuel) were provided in the EPK from Le Pacte Distribution and are used by FF2 Media with their permission. All Rights Reserved.

Tags: Anatomy of a Fall, Best Actress Oscar, Best Director Oscar, Best International Film, Best Original Screenplay Oscar, Best Picture, Cesar Awards, France, French Filmmakers, Justine Triet, Oscar Nominations, Oscar Nominees, Rashomon, Sandra Hüller

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Katusha Jin joined FF2 Media’s team in 2017 whilst she was still a film student at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. In 2019 she was the recipient of SCMP’s journalism scholarship and studied under the mentorship of an Oscar award-winning documentary director in Hong Kong. She went on to receive her master’s degree in journalism from the University of Hong Kong where she graduated with distinction. Katusha has previously worked in the advertising industry, and when she is not writing for FF2 Media, she can be found working on films as a director, producer, and writer. As a trilingual filmmaker, her experiences have cultivated an interest in the intersection between cultural diversity and creativity, and she brings that to her work both as a creative and as a critic. She is also a voice-over hobbyist, a fitness enthusiast, a student of comedy, and is always on the lookout for musical and theatrical collaborations.
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