Can authors or filmmakers be judged for the thoughts or actions of the characters that they create? In recent days, this question has been asked over and over again in movie discussion forums in India, following the release of Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s film Animal, a mindless celebration of toxic masculinity and misogyny. The director’s public pronouncements and the heroic way in which he portrays problematic characters makes it somewhat easy for people to arrive at an answer.
Although it can be quite a crime to mention Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall in the same article as that film, it has to be done, for Triet’s film has an interesting passage where it is not so easy to answer that question. The film played to a packed house in the World Cinema category at the 28th International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) on Saturday.
Writer Sandra Voyter (Sandra Huller), the protagonist, is facing trial after the death of her husband Samuel (Samuel Theis) following a fall from the top of their house up in the snowy mountains. At a crucial point in the trial, the prosecutor pores over her books and finds some similarity between the thoughts of a character planning to kill someone and the way her husband was killed.
Now that alone would not have posed much of a problem for the author, but the prosecutor also points at her habit of weaving in happenings from her personal life into her stories. It becomes one of the many exciting and disturbing strands that Triet slowly extracts from what initially seems to be a regular accidental death. But the court procedural, which forms a good part of the film, also does not deliver easy answers. Rather, it uncovers much more about the characters, the evolving texture of their relationships and the adjustments the husband and wife hailing from different countries and speaking different languages have made to build their life together.
Their 11-year old visually challenged son Daniel‘s (Milo Machado Graner) memories, his re-evaluations of old events in light of what he hears in the courtroom all play a crucial role in the direction that the trial takes. Triet draws out powerhouse performances from the principal cast. An intelligently-written scene involving the couple, which begins with not-so-harmful back and forth comments and hits an emotionally wrenching crescendo also becomes a short history of the couple, laying out the reasons for their discontent, both personal and professional. One gets a hint that all is not well in the opening scene where Sandra is being interviewed by a young woman, and the interview keeps getting interrupted by loud music from upstairs, played by Samuel.
For a film that begins with a death of this kind, Triet had so many familiar paths to take, none of which she takes. And the one which she finally takes is the one which no one yet has spotted.