“She was there one minute and then she was gone the next. Lying in a pool of herself with a twisted neck. Oh she fell from the roof to the ground, there was glass lying all around.She was broken in a hundred pieces when her body was found. She used to live life, she used to live life with a vengeance. And the chosen would dance, the chosen would dance in attendance. She crossed a lot of people, some she called friends, she thought she’d live forever, but forever always ends…Did she jump or was she pushed?”
The haunting tune of the song Did She Jump or Was She Pushed? by Richard and Linda Thompson has been a part of my life since birth. While there have been stories in all avenues of media before and after the song that dealt with the subject of a dead body and the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death, nothing has quite nailed the inquisitive nature such a dilemma till now.
An world renowned author Living with her husband and son in the remote French mountain town her husband grew up in; Sandra (Sandra Hüller) is being interviewed at her home by a young reporter. As they try to converse, the booming sounds of her husband’s music shakes the entire house as he is working on remodeling the attic space. With so much going on, their son Daniel (Milo Machado-Graner) takes the family dog–which is also a seeing eye dog for Daniel–for a walk as the reporter leaves. Upon returning Daniel yells for his mother’s help as his father lays motionless on the ground, as he seemed to fall to his death from the attic window.
As suspicions from police arise as to circumstances of the “accident” come into questions, Sandra enlists the services of an old friend, Vincent (Swann Arlaud), who is the only lawyer in the country that she knows. The fabric of Sandra’s life with her family is soon to be on full display to the world and everyone’s faith will be shaken as a court tries to decide if he jumped or was he pushed.
Anatomy of a Fall has all the markings of a divisive film. There will be audience members who need more clarity from certain story points. There are others who will spend all 150 minutes of the film’s runtime waiting for some sort of clever rug pull at the last moment. While there is a complete story being presented, not everything will be as clear as some people need it to be by the time the credits role. But, that is what makes Anatomy of a Fall so brilliant.
So many stories can be boiled down to being a “slice of life” when it comes entering the doors of another family’s deep and darkest secrets. For the first time in a long time (maybe ever?), Anatomy of a Fall is the most honest and realistic portrayal of the inner workings of a family unit that one day looks to be the picture of perfection, and a dysfunctional mess the next. Much like the documentary, Capturing the Friedmans, each new piece of information that unfolds effects how you feel about the characters. But here, the lines are so gray, it all makes sense from all sides in the immediate moment.
I can’t speak to the French court system…to tell you if the screen version is just a shadow of the real life counterpart that is always the case in films that depict the American legal system. Yet, even as some of the more melodramatic court scenes take place, it felt more like a real trial than what is offered in other movies.
Everyone in the film is on point, there are no wasted performances. But there are two specific actors who really make Anatomy of a Fall that much more special. Milo Machado-Graner who plays Daniel is just brilliant. Often younger actors who do great jobs get lifted on the metaphorical shoulders of the film goers, and have unnecessary praise rained upon them. But Milo delivers the epitome of what that type of performance really should be. As for the other performance, the Dog that plays the family’s loyal pet is the best acting by an animal since the dog in The Thing (1892). This pooch is so good it is worth writing about and I’d have no complaints if it gets legitimately nominated for the Best Supporting Actor category at the Academy Awards.
Anatomy of a Fall in the end will not be for everyone. It will drag for some and feel inconclusive for others. But if you’re ready to really hold up a microscope to actual life in a way you’d never expect, then you’re in for the a fascinating ride.
Final Grade: A-
Here’s the trailer of the film.