Anatomy of a Fall & The Holdovers Double Feature Review

A woman lies with a dog
Sandra Huller as SANDRA in ANATOMY OF A FALL

Lindsey reviews two films getting awards buzz: Anatomy of a Fall directed by Justine Triet and The Holdovers, directed by Alexander Payne. For full details, listen to the podcast review (transcript below).

Anatomy of a Fall is a French-language film that combines elements of a courtroom and family drama. Directed by Justine Triet and starring Sandra Huller, Milo Machado Graner, Swann Arlaud, and Samuel Theis. Justine Triet became the third female director to ever win the Palme D'Or at Cannes 2023 for her efforts.  

Description of the movie: When Samuel's body is found outside their home, his wife Sandra becomes the prime suspect of an investigation into his death. The case will test the bond between Sandra and her son Daniel. As the authorities try to piece together how the titular fall took place, Daniel must also study and dissect the corpse of his parents' marriage to decide which story he will believe.

Final score: 4 out of 5.

a teen boy and adult man stand next to each other
[L-R] Dominic Sessa as ANGUS, Paul Giamatti as PAUL HUNHAM in THE HOLDOVERS

The Holdovers is a warm-hearted coming-of age story directed by Alexander Payne, starring Paul Giamatti, Dominic Sessa, and Da'Vine Joy Randolph. 

Description of the movie: All students of Barton Academy prepare for holiday break, except the unlucky few who must stay hunkered down in the school, among them Angus Tully, a smart but troubled young man. But over the course of the two week break, Angus, curmudgeonly classics teacher Paul Hunham, and the kindly bur grieving school cook named Mary Lamb form an odd but sweet found family. 

With cinematography that looks ripped from the 1970s, The Holdovers is an instant holiday classic that will warm the heart and remind you of that one adult that changed the trajectory of our life. 

Final score: 4.5 out of 5



Transcription of podcast review:


Hello everyone, I'm here for 1 of my Stories. This is Lindsey Dunn and today I'm doing a double feature review of Anatomy of a Fall and The Holdovers. It's the time of year where film critics are very busy because it's FYC season. People are gearing up to submit their winners for their various organizations' awards. The next couple weeks are pretty jam-packed with screenings almost every night in the week.


So I'm going to be releasing a series of quick reviews. We'll see how quick they can be. I tend to like to talk a lot once I get started. The first movie is called Anatomy of a Fall. It is directed by Justine Triet. It is a French language film that is starring Sandra Huller, Milo Machado-Graner, Swann Arlaud, and Samuel Theis.


I may have butchered all of these names. What's interesting about this as a foreign language film is that quite a bit of the dialogue is actually in English. Part of that is because Sandra and her husband Samuel are married and they're from two different cultures. In their marriage, they agreed they would communicate in English. When we hear their conversations, they talk in English.


We also have a courtroom, many courtroom scenes, and often the dialogue during those scenes switches from French to English also because Sandra is having difficulty communicating her feelings to the courtroom and the people in there. And as I think about it, there's also a language barrier later on that involves her son.


when she's not allowed to speak to him in French. There's quite a bit about communication and especially a communication across language barriers. Often when you're the most emotional, you tend to want to switch to the language of your heart. It's already difficult to communicate emotions between people who speak the same language, but when you're dealing with people who speak


different languages, then it can add an extra layer of difficulty. And I haven't even told you what the movie is about yet. In this movie, we open with a boy giving his dog a bath. At the same time, his mom sits nearby being interviewed by someone about her writing. She's a famous writer. The interview is sabotaged because of loud music coming from another room in the house.


Oddly, Sandra doesn't ask her housemate, whoever they are, to turn down the music. The tension is thick as the two women agree to meet up later to continue the interview. This conversation sets a tense mood that reflects the contentious feel of this household, but our attention is drawn to Daniel and his dog as they escape the discomfort of the house and go on a walk.


uses a service dog to help him name Snoop while they're, they go on their walk and when they come back a body is lying in the snow, which is Daniel's father. The rest of the movie is dedicated to the investigation and the ensuing courtroom drama because they are trying to discover the cause of death of this fall. Was it an accident? Was it a suicide? Was it murder?


And of course, Sandra is the prime suspect who may have killed her husband, who was the invisible housemate off stage playing loud music to interrupt this interview. So the plot is part courtroom drama and part family drama. The title of the movie, Anatomy of a Fall, is a callback to an older film called Anatomy of a Murder, which happens to be


best courtroom drama film of all time and it's the first film that ever showed all the stages of what it takes to go through a case from the legal side. It's a great film, stars Jimmy Stewart, and the title of that movie is Anatomy of a Murder. So this Anatomy of a Fall is a clever play on words to that. Authorities...


are going to be trying to piece together how the fall took place while we try to figure out the truth and her son is also trying to decide what he will believe happened and if he believes his mother is guilty or not. Sandra Huller is the star of the show who plays the mother and the main person on trial. She is an actress I've seen before in actually a German folk horror film.


So it's interesting for me to see her play a woman speaking in a French language film. She just loses herself in this role of woman on trial. She's on trial for murder in the eyes of the court and in the public, but she's also on trial within her household. She has a son, who I mentioned before, who is very attuned to the environment, maybe because of his visual impairment.


maybe because of his nature, but he is very attuned to what's going on around him. We can see this in his performance, the way that he stands in a room. It's amazing really what he conveys with his emotions that even though he can't see very well, he sees a lot intuitively and absorbs the feelings and the emotions of people in the room.


He's very independent and functions with the aid of his support dog Snoop. One of the more interesting aspects of the film, or I guess I should say there's many interesting aspects, of course you have the actual trial, which I always love a courtroom drama and seeing how it works and seeing how this court works in France is very fascinating because it's very different.


than we see in the American legal system. There's moments where Sandra just speaks up and says, excuse me, I have something I need to say. You would never do that in American courtroom, of course. So just getting to absorb the way the legal system works and how the courts work in France is interesting in and of itself. But we're also really looking at this couple's marriage, how difficult it can be.


to try to forge two lives together, who are from different cultures. The character of Daniel is noteworthy, and in fact, I was more impressed with his performance than Sandra Huller, who's getting a lot of deserved praise. He plays her son, the one that's visually impaired, and I just loved his performance. Now, at first, I was kind of annoyed at how tightly he was holding his dog's leash.


I know he's blind, but I felt like, well, the dog is having a, gonna have a, it seems to be choking almost, you're holding him so close. But of course he had to, we're so used to seeing, I feel like when we see blind people with service animals, they're using canes and you don't really see Daniel use a cane. So he's very reliant on Snoop to show him where to go. I enjoyed how they used music in this film.


and music almost becomes a character. People say sometimes, well, the setting becomes a character or the house becomes a character. And in this movie, music functions almost as a character. We have two, actually three repeating musical themes. One is the song I mentioned at the beginning. During the interview, the husband is playing the song Pimp by 50 Cent.


He uses it there to interrupt the interview and he plays it so loud that it's hard for these two women to hear. Later, we have to hear this song many times. During the investigation, there's this question of how loud were they talking? How loud was the couple talking at a different time while the boy went on a walk?


He claimed he could hear voices. So they play the song at the volume it was at, and then during questioning, Daniel tells them that he could hear them talking and that they weren't arguing because they're trying to figure out if the couple was yelling or not. Daniel says he could hear the voices over the music. So then there's almost this ridiculous point when they're trying to


judge how loudly Sandra was yelling compared to the volume of this music. So we have to keep hearing this song over and over again. And then later it's played during the court to show the people this same set of clues and figure out was the couple arguing or not. And so we hear this song many times. And at first it's funny. Later it becomes disturbing.


And then it becomes sad thinking about how this song was played in that context. For the husband, Samuel, he used it, the song as a weapon to try to get some sort of attention from his wife. It was just interesting how the music, how that song kept functioning differently as the movie progressed. But also another song, two other songs actually.


One is a piece by Chopin, which is used a few times during the movie, but I was more interested in the song Asturius by Isaac Albeniz. This is a really difficult piece that a lot of classical guitarists play, as well as pianists, and over and over again we hear a person in different phases of learning how to play this tricky song on the piano, and each time the player gets a little more proficient.


at landing the tricky passage. We realize at a certain point that it's Daniel who's practicing. People might wonder, so what, what's the big deal? But for me, it was an important piece of character building for Daniel because we were able to see how diligent and detailed he is and how much effort and time it took him to get that piece just right.


Playing such a tricky piece is gonna be no joke for anyone, but he is blind and he had to learn the piece. So you see him with a piece of music that he's fashioned so that he can learn these notes and then he has to practice them and compare it against the notes on the paper. So he had created this very elaborate system for learning this piano piece and getting it right. And so it just impressed me how


detail-oriented he was. Just furthered the emphasis on how attuned he is to the environment. And I think what's chilling about that is he has to make a decision. At the end of the day, he's called to testify, and there's a recording that's played of his parents having an argument. A lot of it's talking, but eventually you hear these noises, and it's not clear what's happening. And Sandra gives her version.


of what happened. Now, of course, his father, Samuel, is now dead, so he can't share his side of the story. So, at the end of the day, he has to choose whether he's going to believe his mother's version or not. And he has to decide, make a decision about this, that will determine the rest of his life, and the rest of his mother's life. And he makes a decision, which I won't spoil, but you get the sense…


from his performance that even though he makes a choice and he's going to stick with it, he's not 100% sure that he chose correctly. For someone like Daniel that is so careful and cautious and detailed, that was just an amazing thing to consider. And I got that out of the music. And the scene where he shows doesn't tell, but shows us with his face that he's not sure about the decision that he's made.


is one of the best bits of child acting I've ever seen. And you can imagine what his life will be like never being 100% sure, and that he's going to go on with his life, but there might be these moments where it comes to him and he has to sit in the dark and think about it. So this movie is definitely worth a watch. It's going to be in the awards chatter. It really reminded me of the Staircase series.


which dealt very much with is he guilty or not. The HBO series leaves room for plenty of doubt whichever side of that you land on. So that is my review of Anatomy of a Fall. It's in theaters right now and the longer I sit with that one the more it permeates my mind and makes me makes me think about it. So definitely recommend that one. The next movie I just


Saw came out of the theater actually, which is The Holdovers, directed by Alexander Payne, who directed movies like Sideways, Nebraska, Election, and Downsizing. And in this movie, Alexander Payne reunites with the star of Sideways, Paul Giamatti. And this movie is about three lost souls during the Christmas holiday at a boarding school called Barton.


Paul Hunham is played by Paul Giamatti, Angus the student played by Dominic Cessa and Mary Lamb who's played by Da'Vine Joy Randolph. In this movie it's the Christmas holiday, all of the students are going home except for the few who for whatever reason can't go home. Either they're too far away or...


their parents have other plans, or the transportation fell through. And of course, every year there's one teacher stuck at the school taking care of these kids instead of having their own holiday. And that honor is given to Paul Hunham, who is sort of the low teacher on the totem pole. We find out later he's an adjunct faculty member, so he's not in a position to really


say no. He's doing the job that nobody else wanted to do and later he claims he's being punished because of a decision he made to fail a student. So at first it's Paul and Angus and a handful of other students but later the other students all get picked up for a skiing trip because they were able to reach these kids parents who agreed it was okay.


for their kids to go with this other parent. Unfortunately, Angus's mother could not be reached, so he's stuck at the school with this teacher who is a curmudgeon and seems to hate all the kids. He's really strict, and even though it's Christmas holiday, he's been making the kids do homework every day and exercise. He just doesn't seem to really have a soft spot for these kids. He's very hard on them.


And here's Angus, a kid who's gotten kicked out of several boarding schools, and so he's not exactly the most obedient student. And over the course of a two week holiday break, these three people form an unlikely friendship. They sort of form this motley crew. And I didn't mention the third member yet, who is Mary Lamb. She is the school's


Cook, the school's head cook, she doesn't want to go home because her son has been killed in Vietnam. For her going home is just too lonely. It feels like maybe she chooses to stay at the school and the three of them are just thrown together at this boarding school over the holidays. The cinematography of this movie is very fun because it is filmed in


It's set in the 1970s and they do everything to make it look like it is coming out in the 1970s, starting with even the branding at the beginning of the movie. They use the old logo, they use distressed film, there's cracks and pops and static, as if this is a film being shown on filmstrip instead of a digital, finely tuned copy. So that was fun.


The lighting is also the sort of darker, muted tones that were used when movies were coming out in the 1970s. And in fact, I just saw this strategy used in the movie Priscilla, the Sofia Coppola, except that movie was ten times darker than this movie. But you're sort of washing out the color and using more natural lighting. The rooms, there's just a lot of


browns and neutral tones. Not a lot of bright colors are seen. It's very, I don't want to say washed out, but it's just a more naturalistic lighting. So that's notable. I love the performances of this movie. Just these three people who are all sort of rough round edges.


coming together. And at first it's all vinegar. But over time we sort of start to see the chinks in everyone's armor, their vulnerabilities come out and they begin to understand each other more and through that have compassion. But it's not about ever really becoming best buddies or we're all gonna have a group hug.


It's very realistic. These are three people who are all isolationists in their own way and sort of prefer the joy of their own company. Especially maybe Mary once, Mary, maybe Mary once enjoyed being around others, but right now she just wants solace and it's hard to find that when you are just grieving. But there will be some


tears shed by the end of the movie probably for everybody or if nothing else you'll just be cutting onions. You'll just get the little itch under your eyeball that something's itchy. Even if you're not crying you're going to get that itch. There's a lot of emotion in this movie. It's very funny. Paul Giamatti is hilarious. His interactions with the students


before he just hangs out with Angus for a funny his his interactions with Angus too are funny but the grouchy curmudgeon really comes out the most at the beginning of the movie and just seeing him evolve and their relationship evolve is a great joy. I loved all the little details of the things they showed in the movie like the Newlywed game they're watching on tv the cherries jubilee dessert


ice skating in Boston. They really did a great job making everything look like it actually was the 1970s, so you're gonna wonder how they did all that if you stop and consider it. You'll probably be lost in the story too much to care. A friend of mine joked before I saw this movie, long before she made a joke that she was looking forward to seeing Dead Poets Society 2.


and I sort of laughed at her, but I think that comparison is actually fair because it has that trope of the teacher who made you see things differently. Now, Robin Williams' character in Dead Poet Society is inspiring the kids to do more with life. I don't think Paul Giamatti's


It's not the same actions he's taking, but there is sort of a moment towards the end where you sense that Angus is going to remember this man for the rest of his life and that he's probably, the trajectory of his life changes because of this two-week thing. He may never see this man again, but his entire life has changed because of what this person does for him.


And it'll get you weepy, nostalgic maybe for a moment in time that you were able to pivot because somebody came alongside of you. And I think that is a beautiful thing. I remember a teacher who made a simple statement on a paper. Because of that one statement, the direction of my life snapped into place.


something about myself that made me confident and made me start planning and plotting for what my next steps were going to be in life. And adults can do that for kids. They say that if you have one supportive adult in your life, that can be enough to help you get through. It doesn't have to be a parent. Of course, it's a blessing if people have parents and grandparents, a whole body of them


But kids can be resilient, but they need one adult, one adult to look at them and say, you've got what it takes, for I see something in you. That can make all the difference. And seeing the holdovers will recapture that moment. I'm not sure if it's a perfect movie, but right now it feels perfect. It feels like an instant classic.


the kind of movie that people are going to want to buy and see over and over again and enjoy with their families. So that is my review of The Holdovers. I would encourage you to see that one as well. I would encourage you to see that one definitely with your loved ones, with your older high school kids and above. That is my review of these movies. I would.


like to make a request that if you enjoy my reviews, please do subscribe to the podcast, either on Apple Podcasts or on Spotify or on SoundCloud, and rate the podcast, put a review up there, if you would, so that more people can find me. I'm still building and growing an audience. Coming up next, I will be seeing May, December, Maestro,


Napoleon and the New Hunger Games movie, the Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. So I will probably be reviewing those movies very soon. So stay tuned for those reviews and I will see you next time on one of my stories. Goodbye.