If you visit didshedoit.com, you will find yourself face to face with a gruesome photo. A man lies dead in the foreground, his blood staining the otherwise pristine snow, while a woman wearing Uggs holds a child and a phone to her ear, presumably calling for help. You are prompted to answer: did she do it? Yes or no?
Congratulations! Now you know pretty much the entire plot of 2023’s Palme d’Or winner, Anatomy of a Fall. The film is a typical courtroom drama: long, been-there-done-that commentary about the spectacle of today’s legal system, plus the Baumbachian fixation with crumbling marriages and wives who are more successful than their husbands. All the usual Law and Order: SVU tropes, too—asshole prosecutor, hot defense attorney who flirts with his client a little too much, aloof judge, crying kid, cold mother, enraptured public, exploitative news reporters. And because this is a French movie before anything else, director Justine Triet has to argue the whole vague and unsatisfying “truth is malleable” thesis, distorting each side of the testimony until there’s evenly plausible arguments on both sides.
And so, the entire marketing strategy is predicated on the movie’s ambiguity, down to the name of the website: did she do it? Yes, or no? When you answer the website’s poll, you are also prompted to write a few words about your response, and the answers underscore how unsuccessful this movie is in the long line of “let’s take to Reddit to debate what this movie actually means”-type films (I’m looking at you, Vivarium!). There are a few serious responses about dog vomit (an actual plot point), but most are ridiculous, like “she did it because cunt vibes,” or she’s innocent “cause she’s a queen <3” and “God forbid a woman has hobbies.” How is it possible that an almost three hour long movie leaves us with nothing more to say than “cunt vibes?”
Simple: this movie doesn’t bring anything new to the table. It’s pretty much Basic Instinct, where the big gimmick is that the main characters are famous authors, and have written storylines that bear suspicious resemblance to their husbands’ deaths. Except Basic Instinct presents the tenuous relationship between art, truth, and the artist—how much can fiction really tell us about the psyche of the author?—without hitting us over the head with it. Triet makes Hüller sit in front of a hotel TV set and eat a cellophane-wrapped sandwich while a news report declares “no matter what actually happened, it’s more compelling to imagine a writer murdering her husband than a professor killing himself.” If you’re going to ask the audience to sit through a nearly three hour movie, don’t silver-spoon-feed the point halfway through!
All this to say, there are ten million, billion movies that make a point of being ambiguous, attempting to question the objectivity of truth and the complicated tension between popular entertainment and the law. In these millions of movies, there are trillions of shots where the camera stays on a character’s face for an uncomfortable amount of time while the actor self-consciously clears their throat and looks around the room (or whatever nervous little tics that they think will confuse the viewer as to whether they’re lying or not). Sandra Hüller and Justine Triet don’t set themselves apart in any significant enough way to merit the whopping hundred and fifty minute runtime—you’re better off slumming it in Bass studying for your midterms.