Tuesday, November 21, 2023

A marriage, a trial, and a complicated movie

 Director Justine Triet must have understood that we've all seen too many movies that try to dissect crumbling marriages. In Anatomy of a Fall,  Triet offers an absorbing look at a rocky marriage but with two major variations: First, the husband in this troubled duo is dead. And second, the wife (Sandra Huller) is on trial for his murder.
 Insightfully written by Triet and her partner in life, Arthur Harari, Anatomy of a Fall raises customary questions about guilt or innocence.  Huller's Sandra and her attorney (Swann Arlaud) contend that Sandra's husband committed suicide. The couple's 11-year-old son (Milo Machado Graner) takes on an important role as the trial develops, but  it's the slow revelation of detail that carries the day.
   Triet wisely tamps down the conventional elements that easily could have defined her movie. Instead, she peels back layers that expose the complexity of a relationship in which Sandra's success as a writer and her husband's failure at the same endeavor caused friction, as did the move that brought them from Germany to a small French town.
    The key to the movie -- which won the Palm d'Or at last spring's Cannes Film Festival -- can be found in Huller's performance, which is deep without being showy. In interviews, Triet has pointed out that Sandra is no angel; the screenplay establishes her as a self-possessed woman who never insists that she was the perfect wife.
   Sandra's fate ultimately hinges on a recording that her late husband made during one of their arguments. He evidently hoped to use it as the basis for one of his stories. 
     The recording becomes essential to understanding the larger point Triet is making: Context changes everything. What might sound abrasive but common in an overheard argument takes on another dimension when it becomes part of a court proceeding.
     Don't fret, the movie doesn't leave us hanging. We get a verdict but the jury’s decision isn't really the point: Triet leaves it to us to pick our way through the messy aftermath of a marriage in which both husband and wife may have thought they were sacrificing too much for the other.
    Anatomy of a Fall isn't a movie for those who want definitive answers; it's for those who are more interested in asking questions as they turn the story this way and that.


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