October 26, 2023 3:43 pm
A surprising, exciting and feminist film arrives in theaters, but also multifaceted and full of twists like a Hitchcockian thriller, of which it somehow brings with it the precision of direction and formal elegance. Anatomy of a fall by French director Justine Triet, winner of the Palme d’Or at the last Cannes Film Festival and box-office hit at home, it is at the same time a crime film, intimate and procedural. A high-level work on the ambiguity of reality, however imbued with a truly human gaze and feeling.
Enthralling music resonates in the living room of a mountain chalet, immersed in the snow. It seems like the beginning of a fun, rhythmic comedy, but the music stops abruptly, like an ax falling cleanly on wood. A man falls from a height and dies. A blind boy is walking with his dog nearby. A woman, wife of the man who fell and mother of the boy, suddenly finds herself a widow, overwhelmed by grief. But too many things don’t add up and the woman ends up on trial, devastated twice.
Before delving further, a necessary premise must be made on the placement of the film in this particular historical moment. Compared to other titles won by female authors in recent years at major festivals, it is the first truly convincing. In 2021, for example, it was the winner of the Palme d’Or Titanium by Julia Ducournau. If you think about the quality of the titles of that extraordinary edition after the pandemic, rewarding that small genre film may still seem counterintuitive today. Even if, beyond taste, that choice underlined the importance of a work directed by a woman who tried to experiment, hybridizing genres. Worse still had been done in Venice, again in 2021, with the Golden Lion awarded to the scholastic, quite anemic and bourgeois Anne’s choice by Audrey Diwan, both given the overall level of the competition and taking into account that on the difficult topic of abortion there already existed masterpieces recognized as The Secret of Vera Drake by the Englishman Mike Leigh, Golden Lion in 2004, and 4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days by Romanian Cristian Mungiu, Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2007. Above all, these awards risked being a volatile concession to #MeeToo, perhaps neglecting first-rate works directed by female filmmakers.
Justine Triet’s past cinematography is exposed to some reservations, despite the undoubted sympathy that the director inspires. Her well-packaged comedies seem to be the expression of a significant part of the cinematographic environment, not only French, now completely distant from interclassism, from criticism of society in general and bourgeois society in particular. Far, above all, from the daily worries of many young people. Instead, it is a world very focused on itself, indulgent and a little pleased with its own little neuroses, while the world is experiencing a moment of great crisis. If you think about the rate of criticism of the bourgeoisie in the filmographies of Buñuel, Bergman or Chabrol, to name a few, you get an idea of the contrast between much cinema of yesterday and today.
Having said this, it must be clear that we are faced with a great film, of notable finesse and strength, and that if, for the umpteenth time, the representation is concentrated on the problems of the bourgeoisie, there is nevertheless the courage to veer clearly in favor of the ambiguity of things. The great thing is that it does so from a feminist perspective, without ambiguity. Succeeding, in its most explicitly militant dimension, very well. But wanting to be unambiguously feminist is still an appearance. And also for this reason it reaches a universal dimension.
He even manages to say something new and profound on the usual theme of fiction blending with reality. The protagonist is in fact a well-known writer who flaunts her work focused on autofiction. The plot here becomes so inextricable that it becomes not only a sort of mirror of reality and fiction, but a multiplication of smaller mirrors between the main ones, the mother and the son, where a small ball – that is, the almost elusive interpretation correct reality – bounces, continuously and mysteriously revealing new, almost infinite facets.
By reinventing the trial film, the director also makes it a work of metacinema, making people listen or re-listen from different points of view to moments of life, all intimate, which always correspond, in this film which begins with an off-screen death, to what it was out of scope, whether visual or audio. In this way the intimate cinema, typical of France, is deconstructed, just as the protagonist’s existence is deconstructed and vivisected. And that of her son, Daniel. Amplified by the media, the univocal reading of the accusation is in turn deconstructed and vivisected.
Thus, what (seems) to be established and difficult to refute is continually called into question, in one sense or another, in a vortex, a kaleidoscopic swirl that always surprises the spectator. The ball bounces, incessantly, almost to the end. At that point not only do you realize that you have witnessed, both live and deferred, a great film about childhood stolen, raped, traumatized (several times), but also the extreme struggle of an adolescent to regain as much of his how much they are trying to take away from him. A blind boy, but who will be instrumental in helping everyone to see better, to see beyond. Triet’s external gaze, not surprisingly, focuses on the faces of mother and son.
If in the end, very laboriously, a truth is affirmed, the spectator also has the doubt that the system laid bare can be expressed, on other occasions, in other contexts, in many different senses, even completely opposite to the one represented here. . Because what is gradually highlighted is that the off-screen is also synonymous with partial moments, with decontextualized extrapolations. And that nuances are fundamental, just like in art.
Conversely, although it is a subjective judgement, it seems certain that a great author was born with this unprecedented anatomy. From beginning to end, in every shot, sequence, detail, she moved with the mastery of a tightrope walker on a thin wire. The opposite of a disastrous fall.
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