Opening 2 Nov 2023
Sandra (Sandra Hüller) is a successful, German-born novelist, living an idyllic life in the French Alps with her would-be writer husband Samuel (Samuel Theis) in his charming ancestral home. Their eleven-year-old son Daniel (Milo Machado Graner) is mostly homeschooled by his father. Daniel’s constant companion is his border collie named Snoop (Messi) who is extremely protective of Daniel when they make forages into the adjoining forest. It is later revealed Daniel is partially blind due to an accident when he was just four. Sandra is a very cool customer. When a student comes to interview her at home, Sandra remains frostily composed as her husband blasts a cover of “P.I.M.P.” by 50 Cent from upstairs making the conversation impossible. Something is amiss in paradise.
Daniel takes Snoop for a walk on the snowy slopes, and upon returning discovers his father lying dead in a pool of blood after a fall from the attic window. Police are called, and they are suspicious; the wound on his head isn’t necessarily consistent with a suicide or an accidental fall. Was it murder? Samuel is a local boy, and just who is his wife Sandra who speaks only passable French and doesn’t mingle with the neighbors?
Much of the film is a courtroom drama, mostly in French. Sandra and Samuel had met and lived in London; English was their common language. Sandra is now required to try and defend herself in French as the complexities and conflicts in her marriage spill out. Lawyer and former love interest Vincent (Swann Arlaud) is there to protect her, though the moviegoer can’t be sure Vincent, still smitten, is convinced of her innocence. The toxic prosecutor (Antoine Reinartz) makes the courtroom bristle during the cross examination as he spews his incisive accusations. Son Daniel, who had been sequestered from his mother, insists on sitting in on the entire trial and testifying.
Who wants to watch a slow-paced film that is 152 minutes long in three languages? Perhaps it is worth consideration because it won the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. And by the way, the dog Messi won the 22nd unofficial top dog award, the Palm Dog 2023, too. If you go to the film, purchase tickets for a matinee and take along another movie sleuth so afterwards, over cappuccino and cake, you can muse about whether Sandra had or had not pushed her husband out of that attic window. Perhaps that is incidental. Mostly what you might discuss is Justine Triet’s brilliant direction and script and Sandra Hüller’s outstanding performance. Analyzing Hüller’s every nuanced expression while listening intently to her every single word, spoken and unspoken, makes the 152 minutes an intriguing whodunit. (Pat Frickey)