Oscars 2024: The Mind Games of Anatomy of a Fall

Director Justine Triet and Arthur Harari have been nominated for Best Original Screenplay for their brilliant and genre-confounding script.
Oscars 2024: The Mind Games of Anatomy of a Fall

Cannes winner Anatomy of a Fall (2023) starts out as a murder mystery about a man’s mysterious fall from his alpine chalet. Halfway in, the film transforms into a taut courtroom drama that clinically dissects the gender roles within a marriage. By the end, this Oscar-nominated screenplay — written by director Justine Triet and her partner Arthur Harari — raises more questions than it answers. 

Celebrated German author Sandra (Sandra Hüller) lives in the French countryside with her husband Samuel (Samuel Theis), their visually-impaired son Daniel (Milo Machado Graner) and his guide dog, Snoop (Messi, who became the internet’s best boy ever since he attended the Oscar nominees’ luncheon). When Samuel is found dead, Sandra becomes the prime suspect because she was the only one at the scene. However, Triet and Harari are not really interested in the whodunit as much as they are in investigating how we see Sandra, a woman whose successes are limited to her profession. The fall in the title ostensibly refers to Samuel’s death, but it’s as much about Sandra’s fall from grace.  

About 90 minutes into the film, an audio recording of a fight between Samuel and Sandra is played for the court, where Sandra and her marriage are being unsympathetically dissected in forensic detail. The fight occurred one day before his death and is produced as evidence of a broken marriage, which in turn is posited as a motive for Sandra killing Samuel. It’s an outstanding scene for not just the way public and private are conflated, but also because of how cleverly Triet and Harari bring together so many of the concerns that act as a foundation for Anatomy of a Fall

In a provocative flip of gender roles, an evidently-weary Samuel speaks of how he does the bulk of domestic labour and takes care of young Daniel; how he has no time for himself. Sandra flatly refuses to alter her work schedule to accommodate him. “Organise your time differently if you want to. It’s up to you,” she says. We find out that the fight took place in the kitchen, with Samuel preparing a meal for the two of them while Sandra is seated at the dining table, waiting for her food. The sense of unease becomes more and more claustrophobic with every detail revealed and every accusation exchanged. Samuel resents Sandra for being able to pursue a career as an author while he cannot; Sandra turns the blame around on him and his lack of focus. (“I don’t owe you anything,” she says.) Samuel points out Sandra’s relatively distant relationship with their son, accuses her of “plundering” his book idea, and brings up her past affairs. Sandra doesn’t know he’s recording this conversation. Has he staged the whole thing in order to level these accusations at her? Or was the clearly distressed Samuel attempting to make himself heard? What did he plan to do with the recording? Is Sandra justified in her cold logic and cutting responses?

The fight crescendos to a mysterious, violent climax with the sound of someone being hit. Triet cuts sharply back to the courtroom, without clarifying who was the victim and who was the perpetrator. It’s an intrigue she’ll maintain for the larger questions in Anatomy of a Fall. The unspoken questions about manipulating emotions and evidence lurk in the shadows. They gather strength when Daniel, playing on the preconception of children being symbols of innocence, effectively manipulates the courtroom. Arguably, Triet and Harari do much the same with their script. Despite Sandra’s many angularities (Samuel calls her a cold-hearted, selfish monster) and the very credible possibility that she may have murdered her husband, you cannot help but root for her. 

You can read our review of Anatomy of a Fall here.

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