Genre: Drama and Legal Thriller Running Time: 2 hrs. 31 min.
Release Date: October 7th, 2023 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Justine Triet Actors: Sandra Huller, Swann Arlaud, Milo Machado Graner, Samuel Theis, Jehnny Beth, Antoine Reinartz, Saadia Bentaieb, Camille Rutherford
uthor (and translator) Sandra Voyter (Sandra Huller) is incidentally studying a new subject, Zoe Solidor (Camille Rutherford), perhaps to be a character in her book. But Zoe, her literature student, is conducting an interview with Sandra for her own work – about the process of storytelling. The project is rudely interrupted and halted, however, by obnoxiously loud music from upstairs, blamed on Voyter’s husband, Samuel Maleski (Samuel Theis), who is apparently working to insulate the attic of their Grenoble chalet. A few minutes later, when their 11-year-old, visually-impaired son Daniel (Milo Machado Graner) returns home from walking the dog, Samuel is found dead, sprawled out on the snow, with a pool of blood encircling his head.
“Nobody’s going to believe that.” His death is ruled as caused by a violent blunt-force blow to the skull – an impact that occurred prior to hitting the ground. “At this stage, we cannot rule out third party involvement,” dictates the forensic pathologist as he examines the corpse. It’s entirely possible that Samuel’s fall was an accident; but given the height of the window sill, the location of the body, the blood spatter, and a bruise on Sandra’s arm, that hypothesis is going to be a tough sell. As mother and son grieve, the authorities begin a rather routine investigation. But, as with all spousal demises, it’s quickly apparent that the wife will become a prime suspect.
“He was very cautious and meticulous. He worked slowly.” Just as Sandra explains her husband’s renovation methods, the film plays out with a comparable pattern; the circumstances of the event are analyzed, reiterated, and detailed with great care. This is, without a doubt, a painstaking anatomy of a fall. From reenactments rerun to repetitive questioning to unexpected evidence surfacing to additional personas getting involved – including longtime friend and lawyer Vincent Renzi (Sann Arlaud) and judge-appointed, impartial witness overseer Marge Berger (Jehnny Beth) – to trial rehearsals and more, the entirety of the process seems to be comprehensively covered. Unfortunately, this is sometimes to the detriment of the pacing; even the camera appears to wander (or linger) on various components, as if it’s losing a bit of interest, as it intermittently behaves like it’s capturing footage for a documentary.
Fortunately, the acting, particularly by Huller, is sensational. In fact, the entire cast is exceptionally believable, from Sandra’s allies to her opponents (who feel as if enemies – chiefly the antagonistic prosecutor – even if they’re merely doing their jobs). Plus, despite the considerable runtime, filled up with methodical interrogations and numerous facets of the trial itself (skipping across a year of trial preparation), the escalating revelations – many involving blame, guilt, relationship complications, and contradicting theories on the death – are thoroughly absorbing (and the music motifs are superb!).
It may be exhaustive, but it only rarely drags (one of the least fitting sequences involves Vincent drunkenly reminiscing about ancient history with Sandra, followed by extra scenes chronicling a major point of deterioration in Sandra and Samuel’s marriage). When the focus returns to the trial, the back and forth of suppositions and accusations are once again riveting (as well as the steady escalation to the climax); it’s never edge-of-your-seat chilling, but it’s difficult to tire of the intensity and entertainment value of the drama. It may all play out like a sweeping, all-inclusive, expanded episode of “Law and Order” (or the realistic version of something lurid and exploitative like “Basic Instinct”), but it’s nonetheless tremendously satisfying, even with its expectedly lengthy falling action, which reenforces the notion that regardless of the outcome of the trial, a man is still dead and a family is irrevocably shattered.
– Mike Massie