German-born Sandra (a career-best performance from Sandra Hüller, '25 km/h', 'Proxima') is an author residing in a remote mountaintop chalet in France, the hometown of her author/teacher husband Samuel (Samuel Theis), where they live with their 11-year-old son Daniel (Milo Machado Graner) and dog Snoop.
In the opening scene of the film, Sandra is being interviewed about her work by a young student. Then they're interrupted, as Samuel starts blasting music, replaying one song over and over. And not just any music - a cover of 50 Cent's 'P.I.M.P.', by German funk ensemble Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band. Snoop and Daniel, who'd been out on a walk, return to discover Samuel's dead body in the snow beneath the third-story window of their home.
What initially presents itself as an open-and-shut case of accidental death develops into a homicide investigation. Making matters worse, the autopsy results are inconclusive. Sandra is fingered as the prime suspect since she was the only adult home at the time and she has no credible alibi. She knows she didn't do it, but can't fathom suicide either as she assumes Samuel's mindset was healthy and their marriage was in a good place. As the trial commences with her lawyer and friend Vincent (Swann Arlaud, 'Bloody Milk') by her side, new information comes to light.
SWITCH: 'ANATOMY OF A FALL' TRAILER
My partner and I watched 'Anatomy of a Fall' and had completely different opinions - I thought Sandra did it for most of the movie, and she thought the opposite (Samuel killed himself). We both flipped to the other side at the end, which is a testament to a great film. It's not surprising that co-writer and director Justine Triet ('Sibyl', 'Age of Panic') has said one of the inspirations for her film was the real-life case of Amanda Knox, which involved a young U.S. woman accused of murdering her roommate Meredith Kercher in Italy in 2007 (and also inspired Tom McCarthy's lamentable Matt Damon-starrer 'Stillwater' in 2021).
Unlike McCarthy's film, Triet's direction is confident, her writing is brilliant and there is no gruff Matt Damon wearing a trucker hat. Enhanced by the scenery and the location (it was shot mostly in the region of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, such as in Maurienne and Villarembert in Savoie, and in Montbonnot-Saint-Martin and Grenoble in Isère), the film's performances, especially Milo Machado Graner, are all realistic and incredibly detailed, peeling back layers of these character's lives like an onion. A highlight is the audio recording of an argument between Sandra and Samuel, which cuts back to the court before the violence begins, forcing the audience to try and deduce who is hitting whom before giving anyone a chance to explain it.
The film's performances, especially Milo Machado Graner, are all realistic and incredibly detailed, peeling back layers of these character's lives like an onion.
Finally, I can't emphasise enough how hilariously utilised that jaunty steel drum cover of 'P.I.M.P.' is. When the investigators are trying to reenact the discussion she and Samuel might have had before his fall to see if their son could have possibly discerned their tone, 'P.I.M.P.' is played again and again. The way the music swells during these scenes had me quietly chuckling during an otherwise completely serious drama. Triet says she and co-writer Arthur Harari ('Onoda: 10,000 Nights in the Jungle') originally planned on Dolly Parton's 'Jolene' being the song that derails Sandra's interview. They had even written an analysis of Parton's lyrics into the courtroom scenes. But about a month before shooting, they realised they couldn't get the rights. Falling back on Fiddy's classic, Triet wove the song into her film. When Sandra is on trial, the prosecutor suggests that she might have had motive to murder Samuel because of the misogynistic lyrics - the song glorifies 50 Cent's supposed involvement in the "pimp" lifestyle. Her defense points out that it was an instrumental version.
A thoughtful, knotty character study that cascades out from inside a polished and well-crafted courtroom thriller, 'Anatomy of Fall' will leave you with a lot to think about.