Justine Triet’s Oscar-nominated film, “Anatomy of a Fall,” revolves around a woman named Sandra (Sandra Hüller) and the death of her husband Samuel (Samuel Theis) after he takes a fall from their attic. On the surface, the premise is simple, but there’s a complication — the only witness to the death is Daniel (Milo Machado Graner), the couple’s visually impaired son.
From the film’s first scenes, viewers are consumed by confusion in the best way possible. We open with Sandra in the middle of an interview. She avoids the journalist’s questions, revealing next to nothing about herself to the journalist or the audience. We know nothing about Sandra, aside from the fact that she writes books inspired by real life and that she doesn’t like sports. Her husband and family’s lives are mysteries, and that’s how Triet wants it.
This technique — omitting crucial information and visuals — is nothing new for the mystery genre, but Triet’s take is fresh and innovative. We are not asked to figure out “whodunnit,” but rather to determine the innocence of one single suspect. As soon as Samuel dies, Triet assigns the audience the role of the jury. We are left to wonder the same thing the characters are: How could he have possibly fallen?
Hüller shines in her portrayal of resolve, willpower and strength; there’s a reason she stars in two of this year’s Best Picture nominees and is herself nominated for her performance in “Anatomy of a Fall.” Throughout the entirety of the film, there is no doubt in Sandra’s dedication — whether it’s regarding the protection of her husband or herself. Her sentences flow quickly and with conviction. When she spontaneously remembers and reveals events that may or may not have happened, it’s with the same determination and fervor. However, Hüller’s acting is subtle — never overly distraught or content. Whether it’s translating languages or deciding exactly what to say, there is visible calculation in her eyes. Once she’s made up her mind, there’s no turning back.
When Sandra cries for the first and only time, it’s incredibly built up, and it is an understandable breakdown after staying strong for so long. Uncertainty is everywhere, but Hüller plays Sandra with confidence and honesty. A sympathetic viewer may be fully convinced by Sandra’s testimony; a pessimistic or critical viewer may think that she is just a great liar. “Anatomy of a Fall” is about belief, and Hüller makes it excruciatingly and amazingly difficult to stay on one side.
Even with Hüller’s masterful performance and Triet’s careful direction, “Anatomy of a Fall” would not be what it is without Milo Machado Graner. Sharing in Hüller’s quickness and confidence, Graner astutely embodies a child rapidly growing up in months rather than years, gracefully oscillating between devastated, confused and determined. Graner makes it easy to feel for the child in the middle of it all, adding a much-needed element of heart to the film. Complete with subtle smiles and held-back tears, Graner’s acting is the finishing touch to an already excellent film.
Even though it depicts a far-from-everyday event, “Anatomy of a Fall” still feels universally pertinent. While it’s not quite an ensemble cast, each character is unique and each actor carries their weight. Without the death, Sandra is just a woman with some problems. She’s probably not the best mother, and she’s definitely not the best wife. Outside of the movie’s context, we may not even blink twice at her life. But powerful acting and clever directing reel us in, leaving us enthralled by the story of Sandra’s life and Samuel’s death. While it’s difficult to predict this year’s Best Picture winner, “Anatomy of a Fall” is certainly a triumph and a worthy contender.
Gabriella is a junior from Los Angeles, concentrating in English, Modern Culture and Media, and Literary Arts. If she’s not at the movies, you can find her coaching the Dodgers from her dorm, plotting her future Big Brother win, or perfecting her chocolate chip cookie recipe.