Anatomy of a Fall: An unlikable widow goes on trial in a fascinating, knotty courtroom thriller

It is often observed that no one knows what a marriage is like except the two people in it, but in Justine Triet’s film that number may be too high

Anatomy of a Fall
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Director: Justine Triet
Cert: 15A
Genre: Thriller
Starring: Sandra Hüller, Swann Arlaud, Milo Machado Graner, Antoine Reinartz, Samuel Theis, Jehnny Beth, Saadia Bentaïeb, Camille Rutherford, Anne Rotger, Sophie Fillières
Running Time: 2 hrs 32 mins

Much has been written about Justine Triet’s courtroom thriller since the film premiered at this year’s Cannes Festival. From the moment the final credits rolled on the eventual Palme d’Or winner, Triet’s screenplay, which she wrote with her domestic partner, Arthur Harari, has inspired heated debate and fierce speculation. Did the husband fall or was he pushed? Is his wife guilty or innocent? What marriage could withstand rigorous legal scrutiny? And what did the dog see?

Sandra Hüller, who has already given the year’s chilliest performance as the avaricious SS wife in Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest, brings froidure and unpleasantries as Sandra, a German-born, France-based novelist accused of killing her male partner. It is often observed that no one knows what a marriage is like except the two people in it, but in Triet’s film that may overstate the number.

In a noisy overture, Sandra is drinking wine (suspiciously early) at the family’s Alpine chalet. She is being interviewed downstairs by a young journalist as her husband, Samuel (Samuel Theis), ostentatiously blasts 50 Cent on a loop from the attic. The interview is quickly aborted.

The couple’s young visually impaired son, Daniel (Milo Machado Graner), heads out into the snow with his trusty assistance dog, Messi, only to find his father’s corpse upon his return.


The police are suspicious about the angle of the fall, and their suspicions are compounded by a series of incriminating details: Sandra is bisexual and has had affairs; the accident that caused Daniel’s blindness has left deep emotional rot in the marriage; and Sandra may have plagiarised one of her books from her husband’s manuscript.

In the courtroom, the advocate general – the French version of the prosecuting barrister – enters various passages from Sandra’s fiction into evidence. A recording of an argument adds more ambiguity than certainty. The damning trial and testimonies make Daniel afraid to lose his mother and then afraid of his mother.

It’s a knotty, fascinating delve into the French legal system, the nature of truth and the institution of marriage. The cinematographer Simon Beaufils’s elevated, wintry tableaux amplify the heroine’s aloofness. Sandra’s stark unlikability and Hüller’s dogged commitment to the role sculpt a most compelling fictional creation. Expect post-screening arguments.

Anatomy of a Fall is in cinemas from Friday, November 10th

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic