A blind boy goes for a walk. He returns to find his father dead in the snow, having fallen from his third floor window. Was it an accident? Suicide? Or did his wife, the boy’s mother, kill him? That’s the premise for Anatomy of a Fall, an engrossing, emotionally complex, and challenging piece of work that ranks among the better movies of 2023.
The truth is less important than the stories we tell ourselves. The stories we choose to believe. This theme is woven intricately throughout Justine Triet’s story, which bends and turns not in traditional thriller fashion but in response to how characters react and adapt to new details and ideas. Sandra Hüller, as the protagonist but also as the frustratingly complex chief suspect, is believable but not exactly truthful; she tells a story that reveals itself as new facts come to life. She seems sincere but she is also a chameleon, an emotional mystery box who may or may not empathize with her late husband (or who may have bashed his head in and shoved him out a window). Hüller is terrific in the role.
Flying under the radar is young Milo Machado Graner, who delivers a quietly powerful and head-turning performance. He’s the one character you can sympathize with unconditionally, though he must face an undesirable decision: choose to believe your dad killed himself—and thus abandoned him—or that your mother did an unspeakable deed. It is his decision and how he ultimately comes to that provides the film’s emotional heft.
At two and a half hours long, Anatomy of a Fall is not the fastest-paced film. It is a little slow and times and would have benefited from tighter editing.
And yet I was often enthralled by what I was watching. The performances are detailed. Nuanced. Complicated. Invigorating.
The direction is careful, sophisticated, and confident. This is a superbly made film, expertly crafted and executed.
And if you dissect Anatomy of a Fall, you’ll find little to criticize.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.