ome people believe that writers of fiction are expert liars. At least this film’s prosecutor (a superbly laser focused Reinartz) touts that belief. With a barrage of relentless, pinpointed questioning, he attempts to exploit this notion during the dramatic cross examination that takes place in this engaging courtroom drama.
Yet, despite the riveting judicial proceedings, this masterfully written Cannes Palme d’Or winning film is about more than determining whether a defendant has committed a crime or not.
We first get a glimpse of a writer’s relationship with the truth during an interview with a popular fiction writer named Sandra Voyter (Hüller). Sandra’s inability to immediately respond to a question about mixing truth and fiction plants a seed of doubt about her ability to be candid. Soon after, her husband, Samuel Maleski (Theis) is found dead by their eleven-year old visually impaired son, Daniel (Graner), on the ground just below their open fourth-story attic window.
Sandra is eventually indicted and tried for murder. As she attempts to defend her innocence in court, the clever storytelling format begins to reveal details of a marriage that evidently has experienced its own tragic descent.
The film commands attention through its use of dialogue. Clearly, the screenwriters have thought seriously about rhetoric, beyond just using words to advance a plot. Theis, and co-writer Arthur Harary, seem to have scrutinized several languages with precision so that every word chosen matters as if life depends on it. And it does.
The dichotomous characterization is similarly thoughtful. Sandra is from Germany and Samuel from France, so they’ve chosen to speak English as a tension filled compromise. Their writing careers, moving in opposite directions, have forced them to a resentful ledge. The complicated intricacies Sandra negotiates while defending herself in English to questions in French, whether about her marriage or her writing, weave elements together in such a way that it is as if we are witnessing the writing process itself.
Casting Hüller was a brilliant decision, as her ability to maintain a steady aloofness throughout increases the tension between what is fact and what is mere speculation. The same may be said for Graner who, as Daniel, not only keeps a similarly controlled facial restraint that shows the boy is his mother’s son, but also does not overstate a visual impairment which causes investigators to doubt the accuracy of his side of things.
Perhaps when in the opening sequence a ball bounces down the steps from the second floor of the house, it’s being suggested that some things, like gravity, cannot lie. It might also mean that given the gravity of the situation, it’s difficult for liars to get away with deception no matter how well they manipulate language. Even when they might be telling the truth.