Of jumping, falling and holding on

MY future is suddenly in the hands of curious strangers: Sandra Huller plays Sandra in Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall on the European Film Festival South Africa, 12-22 October 2023.

PUT TWO PASSIONATE intellectuals together in a remote chalet in the French Alps. Add an almost disabled tween and his seeing-eye Border Collie, and sprinkle more publishing success on the one than on the other, and you get some extraordinary fireworks. Toss in a sudden violent death, and the die is cast. With Sandra Hüller at the helm of Anatomy of a Fall, a work which is essentially a court drama, you can’t go wrong. You can see it on this year’s European Film Festival, which is online and at cinemas in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, between 12 and 22 October, in eSwatini between 20 and 22 October and Lesotho between 26 and 28 October.

It’s a long film, clocking in at just over two and a half hours, but it offers an intimate, careful study of how a court will work in the case of a sudden death – by, as you understand by the title, a fall. The fatality? The husband, Samuel. Milo Machado Graner plays Daniel, the 11-year-old child who has suffered an optical nerve injury seven years earlier. He’s a thoughtful and deeply articulate boy upon whose shoulders the entire future of his domestic stability pivots. He spends the breathing spaces in this taut drama mastering the quick finger work in Isaac Albeniz’s Asturia on the piano, and as the momentum of tale heats up, so do his fingers find the keys with precision.

Hüller, as the wife, is immensely potent. She both deeply human in her vulnerability, yet Spartan in her unbreakable stoic façade in her rendition of a complex intellectual, who writes, thinks, loves and argues with candour. You fall in love with her grace, but also understand and fear her sense of emotional spontaneity. She has lost her husband violently. Did he jump or did she push him?

It is the unrelenting fierceness of private invasion by the prosecution in court that characterises this work. You will not be able to move from your chair, until the jury’s decision is out, at the very end. The prosecution rigorously pulls out everything. What happens when private discourse is recorded secretly in the safe confines of a relationship, and then tossed out as court evidence? Every nuance, said in passion, is analysed by a bunch of strangers. Similarly, there’s a moment where you question patient-doctor confidentiality when the husband’s psychiatrist turns witness for the prosecution. It’s hard to listen to.

However, it is in the first few minutes of this film, even before the titles come up, that the premise of the whole relationship between the members of this small family are cast elegantly and succinctly into relief. By the way in which Sandra (Hüller) handles an interview with a young academic, to the way in which Daniel washes his dog Snoop, you get a substantial understanding of the lay of the land in this house, both structurally and emotionally.

Courtroom dramas have a very specific and watchable protocol to their structure and the give-and-take between sides. Anatomy of a Fall features this rhythm satisfyingly, knowing that it has already invested your interest in the individual characters. It’s a beautiful film.

  • Anatomy of a Fall is directed by Justine Triet and features a cast headed by Isaac Abballah, Judicaël Ajorque, Nicholas Angelo, Swann Arlaud, Marie-Laure Aumis, Laura Balasuriya, Saadia Bentaïeb, Alexandre Bertrand, Jean-Pierre Bertrand, Jehnny Beth, Cécilia Bongiovanni-Lefebvre, Marie Brette, Cécile Brunet-Ludet, Antoine Buéno, Jean-Claude Calbet, Florent Chasseloup, Sandrine Chastagnol, Julien Comte, Vincent Courcelle-Labrousse, Betty Desmier, Jefferson Desport, Christophe Devaux, Justine Dulary, Sophie Fillières, Pierre-François Garel, Milo Machado Graner, Kareen Guiock, Arthur Harari, Anne-Lise Heimberger, Sandra Hüller, Nola Jolly, Emmanuelle Jourdan, Phillippe Jubien, Ilies Kadri, Cyril Karenine, Maud Martin, Romaric Maucoeur, Messi (the dog), Wajdi Mouawad, Fabien Perrot, Antoine Reinartz, Savannah Rol, Anne Rotger, Camille Rutherford, Christophe Léon Schelstraete, Nesrine Slaoui, Samuel Theis, Rose Thibault and Sacha Wolff. Written by Arthur Harari and Justine Triet, it is produced by Marie-Ange Luciani and David Thion and features creative input by Simon Beaufils (cinematography), Laurent Sénéchal (editing), Cynthia Arra (casting), Emmanuelle Duplay (production design) and Isabelle Pannetier (costumes). In English, German and French with English subtitles, it is part of the 10th European Film Festival South Africa, screening at The Zone in Rosebank Johannesburg, The Labia in Cape Town, Gateway in Durban and online from 12-22 October, with satellite programmes in eSwatini from 20-22 October and in Lesotho from 26 to 28 October.

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