by Rob DiCristino
“Getting divorced with a kid is one of the hardest things to do. It’s like a death without a body,” laments a character in Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story. The analogy is a good one — without the catharsis of a pronounced ending, all that pain, resentment, and frustration stagnates and decays, looming over the concerned parties for the rest of their lives. But what if there was a death? What if there was a body? What if a family already on the brink of collapse was suddenly torn apart by disaster? Winner of the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall presents us with this very situation. When her husband, Samuel (Samuel Theis), is discovered dead outside of their chalet, Sandra (Toni Erdmann’s Sandra Hüller, also of this year’s The Zone of Interest) finds herself on trial for his murder. Medical examiners match head wounds with blood splatters, but they can’t decide if they came before or after he fell from a third-story window. Did the mercurial Samuel commit suicide, or did his embittered wife finally have enough?
Co-written by Triet and her husband, filmmaker Arthur Harari — I’ll let you unpack all that on your own time — Anatomy of a Fall uses the structure of a courtroom drama to excavate the root causes of Sandra and Samuel’s unhappiness. Vincent is matched up against a thundering prosecutor (a droll and often hilarious Antoine Reinartz) tasked with convincing the jury that Sandra is an unstable killer who manipulated her husband’s low self esteem and mental health issues for her own gain. He’s got a decent case, it has to be said: Samuel’s psychiatrist recounts a litany of complaints and grievances leveled at his wife during their sessions, and the court listens in perverse wonder as the prosecutor reads an excerpt from one of Sandra’s own novels in which a wife plots her husband’s murder. We even discover that Samuel was secretly recording their day-to-day lives — a last ditch effort to jog loose some literary inspiration, apparently — and kept detailed transcripts of their worst altercations. The results do not paint Sandra in a favorable light, to say the least.
Anatomy of a Fall is in select theaters now.