Writer-director Justine Triet's Palme D'Or winning ANATOMY OF A FALL struck me less as a masterpiece of direction than a well-acted murder mystery.
In my more mischievous moments I thought of it as BASIC INSTINCT as channelled through Agatha Christie. Think about it: Sandra Hueller (THE ZONE OF INTEREST) stars as an unapologetically successful, bisexual, author who is accused of killing her husband, of even referring to his future murder in her work, and has a somewhat flirtatious relationship with both the young journalist who interviews her at the start of the film, and with her attorney later on. In both films, we discuss gender roles, including toxic masculinity being undermined by a strong woman. In this case, the accused refuses to pander to her husband's need for more parental help and time to focus on his work. Bluntly, she tells him and the court to stop blaming her for his inability to finish his work, and his jealousy of her success. As the film progresses it becomes clear that her husband has been emasculated not only by her success but by her having an affair with a woman. Both films also talk about consent. In BASIC INSTINCT it's sexual consent: in ANATOMY OF A FALL it's whether the husband recording his interactions with his wife was done with consent.
Of course, this is a differently serious endeavour, and the genre it ploughs is that of courtroom drama. The twist in the tale, or should I say tail, is that the key witness is the couple's son. He has the cruel experience of hearing the state's prosecution of his mother, and has to parse his own memories of the fall, and prior conversations with his father, to work out what he heard, and what it meant. Milo Machado Graner is superb in this role.
I really liked how Triet raised questions about gender roles in marriage and how far a single argument or episode can be taken as indicative of a relationship as a whole. It's great to see Sandra as a well-drawn, nuanced strong female character who is allowed at times to be "unlikeable". And I love the moral ambiguity that is not entirely resolved, even when we do know whodunnit. Is this a Palme D'or winning film for me? No. But it's a very fine, grown-up, character-led drama of the type I am pleased is still getting made.
ANATOMY OF A FALL has a running time of 152 minutes and is rated R. It played Cannes 2023 where it won not just the Palme D'Or but also the Palme Dog! It went on limited release in the USA this weekend and opens in the UK on November 10th.