Anatomy of a Fall, or L’Anatomie d’une Chute, emerged as the winner of this year’s prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Masterfully directed by Justine Triet, this remarkable film portrays the events following the death of Samuel Malewski, a teacher and writer found dead in front of his chalet by his son. His wife, Sandra Voyter, who is also a writer, was the only one present in the house. As evidence gathers to suggest that a murder potentially may have taken place, Sandra Voyter is put on trial: was Samuel pushed off the third floor of the chalet by his wife, or did he jump and commit suicide?
This film is extraordinary for many reasons. Firstly, none of the people who I’ve spoken to and have seen this film, have felt, understood, or formed conclusions about the movie in a similar way. Secondly, despite the differing interpretations, one scene in particular, ‘the scene of the fight’, where an actual interaction between husband and wife is shown for the first time, was deeply striking for every single person. Thirdly, although the film leaves room for deciding what one believes, it has a completely satisfactory ending and there is not a slither of doubt in one’s mind as to what has happened, even though it is clearly one’s own conclusion. The aim of the film is to allow what ‘makes sense’ to persuade us and show us the truth, in a world in which we too often require external facts or knowledge to justify our interpretations. Lastly, it is truly touching; the evolution of a relationship, love, family, is artfully shown, leaving the viewer pensive.
When the film begins, we are made aware of the tension that is in the household. Sandra is being interviewed about her most recent book and responds in a joyous, if slightly bored, or wary, manner. As she starts laughing with the student who is interviewing her, explaining her attitude by the solitude of her environment (a chalet in remote and snowy mountains), the instrumental version of “P.I.M.P” resonates through the house, rendering any conversation impossible. With an embarrassed smile, she explains that her husband often puts on music when he works. When it is clear that the music will not stop, she sighs and says the interview will have to take place at another time. The student leaves. Sandra goes upstairs. Her son goes out to walk the dog. When he comes back, he finds his father dead and screams for his mother to come. She rushes outside, and from this point on, this event slowly takes over their life; after the ambulance, there is the police, a lawyer-friend, the discovery of marital problems, the realisation that there will be a trial. The fall can only be explained by two options: murder or suicide.
This scene is incredible because of the subtlety, intelligence, and authenticity with which it depicts the build-up of resentment and anger in a marriage between two “real” people with actual lives, thoughts, and personalities
As the trial begins, there is an air of uncertainty regarding what to anticipate or trust. The prosecution and defence both use experts who describe the fall in a way that explains the way Samuel was found. Their intimate life is revealed, past grievances, current fights, guilt, resentment, and the tension culminates in the evidence that reveals the “scene of the fight”. Indeed, Samuel was recording extracts of his day-to-day life, which he wished to use as inspiration for his next book and didn’t always tell his family when he was recording them. This scene is incredible because of the subtlety, intelligence, and authenticity with which it depicts the build-up of resentment and anger in a marriage between two ‘real’ people with actual lives, thoughts, and personalities. It is rare to see on screen such detailed and worked characters, who are not merely roles or representations but feel like persons.
The ‘scene of the fight’ is long; it takes at least five to ten minutes, giving the film a theatre-like ambience, which proves extremely effective. It is a gradual build-up where there is a clear provocation, a common-sense and rational response, more provocation, and violence explodes when the final line is crossed. It is also the first time in the film that we see Samuel. The outlook into his personality, into their interactions, changes the viewer’s perspective entirely. Whether we interpret it differently or not (that is what fascinated me when talking to my family or friends – the fact that we all denoted this scene as pivotal, and yet no one saw the same thing) we are suddenly aware of what has happened, why it happened, how it happened.
More often than not, in films, in books, and in life, we focus on facts and evidence without considering the truth of an emotional and coherent reality. We refuse to see, or refuse to see the worth of understanding people’s emotions, rationality, and subjective explanations that they give themselves to understand what is going on in their lives
And that is a beautiful message. Thereafter, the film emphasises this idea by having a character tell the son, torn between two terrible interpretations of what might have happened to his father, that when we are faced with impossible decisions, we should go with the one that makes the most sense. More often than not, in films, in books, and in life, we focus on facts and evidence without considering the truth of an emotional and coherent reality. We refuse to see, or refuse to see the worth of understanding people’s emotions, rationality, and subjective explanations that they give themselves to understand what is going on in their lives. This film commands us to do it, and not only does it solve the trial, but it also satisfies our minds without the need for exterior proof or knowledge.
In the interest of not spoiling the film, I have omitted many key moments or characters that are crucial. It is complete, captivating, and atypic. Furthermore, little gems like language and cultural differences, how one copes with the handicap of a child in a family, ambition, jealousy, and love, are all wonderfully explored. The message of the film is immortalised in Sandra’s instinct to tell her lawyer, as well as her son, “It wasn’t always like this”. Their story, their love, had a purpose, had a life.