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Anatomy of a Fall takes a new narrative approach to the movie murder mystery genre

 Audrey Kupferberg examines a film roll in her office
Audrey Kupferberg
Audrey Kupferberg examines a film roll in her office

It is no surprise that Anatomy of a Fall won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. This film dares to take a different tack to the old favorite murder mystery genre. In the early minutes of the film, Daniel, an eleven-year-old vision-impaired boy, discovers the bloody body of his father, Samuel, lying near their home. What am I watching? Is it a murder mystery? 

Eventually, a lawyer, Vincent, appears and prepares a defense case proving that Daniel’s mother, Sandra, did not kill her husband. The scenes of Vincent and Sandra are followed by long sequences in the court room. One expert after another presents testimony that will prove the case one way or another. So…what am I watching? Is it a court room drama? 

Anatomy of a Fall defies categorizing. This French production with characters speaking French and English is intelligent and at times mesmerizing. It premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2023 where it won the Palme d’or and the Palm Dog Award. Yes, the Palm Dog Award for best performance by a canine. If you see this film, you likely will agree that Messi the dog, as Snoop, deserves accolades for its performance. 

The story is uncomplicated. Sandra Voyter (played by Sandra Huller) and Samuel Maleski (played by Samuel Theis) are married with a son Daniel. Indirectly, a while before the screenplay begins, through Samuel’s negligence, their son Daniel loses much of his eyesight. Sandra is a novelist with several books on the market. Samuel is a wannabe writer, disillusioned teacher, and carpenter. Their marriage is complicated, and its details are embodied thoughout the incredibly detailed screenplay. 

Samuel’s body has unexplained bruises. Sandra has a bruise near her wrist. Samuel has taped some of their violent spats. Early on, it is evident that there is enough going on to support indicting Sandra for Samuel’s possible murder. Or are we to believe it was suicide? 

While all aspects of this production are first rate, it’s the screenplay of this 2 ½ hour film that stands out most. Justine Triet, who directed Anatomy of a Fall, co-wrote the script with her partner Arthur Harari. Both Triet and Harari have solid careers as directors and writers, with Harari also acting and Triet also editing. Exploring the works of their careers to-date will make for an intriguing project. 

Triet and Harari place occurrences in the court room side-by-side with dramatic flashbacks and a few scenes that take place as the trial unfolds. The editing is intricate but never confusing. Music plays a significant part; however, unlike conventional films, the music is sourced to the storyline as opposed to being an outlying soundtrack laid over the action.

Whether this film is a murder mystery or a court room drama can be answered by the title. It’s an “anatomy”… meaning it is an investigation or a study. Anatomy of a Fall is a serious investigation of an event that tosses a small family into chaos. It’s available for viewing in theaters and streaming.

Audrey Kupferberg is a film and video archivist and retired appraiser. She is lecturer emeritus and the former director of Film Studies at the University at Albany and co-authored several entertainment biographies with her late husband and creative partner, Rob Edelman.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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