ON AIR: The New Classical FM

Film Reviews: Anatomy of a Fall & Nyad

Arts Review2023-10-20By: Marc Glassman


Brilliant Female Performances Highlight Two Top Films

Anatomy of a Fall & Nyad

By Marc Glassman


Anatomy of a Fall

Justine Triet, director and co-script w/Arthur Harari

Starring: Sandra Hüller (Sandra), Swann Arlaud (Vincent), Milo Machado-Graner (Daniel), Antoine Reinartz (Prosecutor), Samuel Theis (Samuel), Jehnny Beth (Marge), Saadia Bentaieb (Nour), Camille Rutherford (Zoé)


Winner of the top prize, the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Festival, Anatomy of a Fall is a brilliant courtroom drama set in the French Alps, played out in a heady international mixture of languages ranging from English to French to German. Sandra Hüller, who is a truly compelling performer, plays a German writer, a huge success, who is accused of killing her unhappy French husband, Vincent, by pushing him to his death from the top of their chalet. But it’s just as likely that he could have committed suicide and even set her up to look as if she was the murderer. Adding to the suspense is that the only witness to the case is their son, Daniel, who is visually impaired. What did he see and how will his testimony affect the jury?

Anatomy of a Fall isn’t a languid confusing art film. It’s a brilliant genre piece that anyone can enjoy; quite frankly, a surprising choice for the big winner at Cannes. Justine Triet, only the third female director to win the Palme d’Or—the others are Jane Campion and Julie Ducornet—has done an impressive amount of legal research in preparation for the film while also concentrating on extracting superb interpretations from her actors, even those in minor roles. In interviews, she has talked about mixing professionals with amateurs to give a different feel to the courtroom scenes. 

Triet attended a great number of trials in advance of the shoot and the payoff is that the scenes in the courtroom come off not only as convincing but also quite dramatic. One of the major points in the accusation against Hüller’s character is that she bases her books on events in her life, which show that her relationship with her husband was quite problematic. Triet discovered that a recent French trial had, in fact, used an author’s semi-autobiographical novels against him in a court of law. 

All of that hard work lends a texture of authenticity throughout the film. The key to Anatomy of a Fall is in a bravura sequence when the prosecution, in its attempt to prove Hüller’s character (also called Sandra) guilty of killing her husband offers an audiotape recording, which he had secretly made when the two were quarreling a few days prior to his demise. While the rest of the film is shot in a realist style, Triet allows her imagination to construct the mise-en-scene in which the couple go from playful breakfast banter to full on vicious fighting—mainly verbal but also physical—within a few minutes. It’s a chilling look at a marriage gone wrong but it doesn’t prove the prosecution’s allegations. What’s fascinating is that scene, as intense and honest as it is, can offer motivation either for the husband’s possible suicide–out of despair–or the wife’s potential homicide–out of anger.

Triet’s script and direction are exceptional but her truest achievement was in her collaboration with Sandra Hüller, who is stunningly brilliant as a woman accused of murder while dealing with the death of her husband. A German who speaks English well but struggles with French, she’s truly a stranger in a strange land, forced to deal with a quite difficult legal system in a language that is highly nuanced. Sandra has to accept the hostility of her neighbours, who all side with her late husband, who grew up in the region in the Alps where he died. Even harder for her is dealing with their son, Daniel, who is legally blind and is attempting to process the death of his father and incarceration of his mother. A brilliant performer, Hüller rises to the challenges of a dramatic, psychological script playing everything from the grieving widow to the loving mother to the egotistical writer to the preyed-upon woman up on charges of murder. For North American audiences, the simplest comparison to the immensely talented Hüller is Meryl Streep: both women can play any role with force, conviction, style and wit.

In its title, Anatomy of a Fall recalls one of the greatest courtroom dramas in cinema, Otto Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder. In his masterpiece, Preminger keeps an objective eye on the sensational developments in the trial of a husband accused of killing the man who raped his wife—or was that his motivation? We never know, nor do we have to accept the plea of temporary insanity, which eventually wins the case. Here, Triet maintains a similar stance, never expecting us to believe that a murder or a suicide took place. Instead, we’re treated, as in the Preminger, to the spectacle of a courtroom trial that examines the case and eventually arrives at a conclusion. But is it the right one? We’ll never know.



Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi & Jimmy Chin, directors

Julia Cox, script based on Diana Nyad’s autobiography Find a Way

Starring: Annette Bening (Diana Nyad), Jodie Foster (Bonnie Stoll), Rhys Ifans (John Bartlett), Karly Rothenberg (Dee Brady), Luke Cosgrove (Luke Tipple), Jeena Yi (Angel Yanagihara)


The great thing about sports is that miraculous events happen with astonishing frequency, but they’re always greeted by cheers and tears. Anyone who is interested in athletics knows the classic scenarios: An underdog rookie winning against all odds; Teams suddenly coming together to win trophies in the playoffs (unless they’re the Maple Leafs); Veterans pulling themselves together for one last big event and emerging triumphant. For many of us, the reason to watch anything from playoff matches to the Olympics is to embrace the passionate storylines that can make one feel optimistic—if only briefly–despite all the maladies in the world.

Nyad is the kind of sports film that makes tired clichés seen fresh again because its touching tale is true—and, like many such stories, it’s life-affirming. Diana Nyad became famous in the 1970s as the long-distance female swimmer who swam around Manhattan (45km/28miles) and bettered that by going from North Bimini in the Bahamas to Juno Beach, Florida (164km/102 miles). She retired in her late twenties to become a successful writer and sports commentator, but one thing bothered her: she had failed to swim from Cuba to Florida (177km/110 miles) due to the incredibly harsh weather conditions that frustrate all the travelers in the area. At the age of 60, she decided to triumph against adversity by returning to the scene of her one major defeat, and make a successful swim across those treacherous waters, over 30 years after her last attempt.

Nyad is about the legendary swimmer’s final sporting victory after many tries, but it wouldn’t be all that interesting if the film followed events as if it was a piece of broadcast journalism. Like all great sports dramas, it tells us many things. First off, it is the classic Zoomer story of someone discounted because of their age proving everyone wrong by being more than capable physically. Second, it’s about spirit: Nyad is indomitable, never accepting defeat; it’s called “being a winner.” Third, it’s about working as a team. Yes, Nyad was a solo swimmer, but the film (and accounts of her swims) emphasizes that her victory would have been impossible without a brilliant coach (Bonnie Stoll) and exceptional navigator (John Bartlett)—and she had both. Fourth: it’s about being a visionary. Nyad saw that she could break barriers and achieve things that no one else had done; her success would never have occurred if she hadn’t always thought outside of the box that traps too many of us.

Nyad features two astonishing Oscar-worthy performances–one by Annette Bening as Diana Nyad, the feisty incredibly charismatic swimmer and the other by Jodie Foster as her coach and trainer, Bonnie Stoll. In real life, the two are best friends, partners in BravaBody, a company that offers practical advice to women over 40—and, yes, they are lesbians but haven’t been lovers for decades. Bening and Foster play these extraordinary women with panache and boldness. As friends, they fight and embrace and debate what they should be doing. Ultimately, the two are the best company for each other and the two wonderful actors—Bening and Foster—know how to play off each other expertly. Very quickly, the audience begins to identify with the funny, practical Bonnie Stoll, played by Foster as someone who knows how to motivate others including Nyad. But Bening is similarly terrific as Nyad, the Alpha athlete who wants to pursue her vision and expects everyone to join her quest. 

For directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, the duo who made the Oscar-winning mountain-climbing documentary Free Solo, this was their first foray into narrative feature films. They’ve done extremely well, not only in the many scenes when Nyad is swimming, but on land, when Bening’s Nyad has to deal with the surface world with only Foster’s Stoll to help. The film sensitively deals with Nyad’s past, which includes being sexually abused for years as a teenager by her swimming coach. Part of Diana Nyad’s success in her life is the way she handled her own situation—stoically dealing with it in her twenties before eventually going public, turning her treacherous mentor into a controversial figure by the time he died. The film and its directors offer a mature approach—never sensationalizing while remaining truthful—to this difficult subject. 

In Greek mythology, the naiad is a water nymph, presiding over springs, wells, brooks and rivers among others. Diana Nyad is, in many ways, a modern version of that female spirit, less playful but still inspiring to millions of women and men. The film about her life, Nyad, may never rise that far above the sports movie genre but it is easy to recommend—particularly if you like swimming.



To learn about advertising opportunities with Classical FM use the link below:

Listen on the Go

Classical Logo
Download Apps
Download Apps
Marilyn Lightstone Reads
Art End World
Part of
© 2024 | Executive Producer Moses Znaimer