In Anatomy of a Fall, a woman is suspected of murder when her husband dies from an apparent fall at their remote chalet. The couple’s visually impaired son discovers the body, and becomes the sole witness in the ensuing investigation and trial.

The film stars Sandra Hüller as Sandra, Samuel Theis as her husband Samuel, and Milo Machado Graner as their son Daniel. It comes from writers Justine Triet and Arthur Harari, with Triet also directing.

Anatomy of a Fall took home the Palme d’Or at Cannes; it was also among the features France considered putting forth for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars. After seeing this one, I’m not surprised – it definitely deserves its awards buzz.

‘Anatomy of a Fall’ delivers a truly outstanding script and performances

First, Anatomy of a Fall brings a truly standout screenplay to life. Honestly, I can’t praise this script enough, particularly when it comes to the dialogue.

Every conversation between characters flowed so naturally, and — with the assistance of the actors’ excellent line delivery — switched easily from one kind of emotional moment to the next. You really believe these aren’t just characters, but real people undergoing an extraordinary event. It feels almost unscripted (in a good way), like we’re just watching these events unfold in real time.

Similarly, the courtroom scenes were outstanding. The back-and-forth between Sandra’s defense and prosecution was incredibly compelling. (And not just because you want to know the ruling at the end.) You find yourself easily caught up in how each side lays out their argument, presents evidence, and undercuts the opposition. And again, this all plays out so naturally — the lawyers will throw in a sarcastic aside or a snarky comment that pull a laugh from you, but it never feels like the film is trying too hard to be funny.

It also helps that the script is delivered by some excellent performers. Hüller easily carries the film as Sandra; I was blown away by the range of emotions she shows, and how she can convey them in her character’s more quiet, subtle moments as well as her more explosive ones. As a character, Sandra plays her cards close to her chest; Hüller expertly peels back those layers at opportune moments. Whether you’re rooting for Sandra or not — whether she killed her husband or she didn’t — you’re drawn to her, trying to figure out the mystery of her as a complex, nuanced human before you even get around to the aspect of the mysterious death at the center of the film. An openly flawed (possibly even unreliable?) protagonist always makes for a more compelling story.

Even more intriguing than true crime

Anatomy of a Fall has the driving mystery and intrigue of a true crime story, but somehow feels more compelling. I think it’s the way everything in the story unfolds from the place of the characters and their relationships first. While Anatomy of a Fall draws you in with the drama of a dramatic death, it’s the interpersonal drama that unfolds during the investigation that keeps you hooked.

This is a movie that always feels incredibly grounded. Despite the turns the case takes, it never comes across as melodramatic or inflated for the sake of adding artificial tension. Yet, it kept my attention and I felt invested throughout the film’s 150 minute run time. 

The ending of this one may prove divisive; it manages to be both definitive and open-ended at the same time. I felt like it was the right choice for the story being told, but I also understand the desire to have your curiosity fully sated by the time things wrap up. Regardless, this is the kind of movie you want to see with someone else, so you can walk out of the theater and dive into your own interpretations of the events.

Although Anatomy of a Fall doesn’t necessarily follow the usual pattern in crime stories, it weaves an incredibly compelling tale. The film’s actors bring a top-notch script to life; everything remains grounded in the characters, and every moment feels natural, real, and believable. You’ll find yourself hooked on building your own narrative around the fall, only to have your thoughts and expectations challenged by the characters. Put simply, this is definitely one to watch.

Anatomy of a Fall premieres in select theaters October 13.