French legal system under spotlight in Best Picture ­nominee ‘Anatomy of a Fall

French legal system under spotlight in Best Picture ­nominee ‘Anatomy of a Fall

French legal system under spotlight in Best Picture ­nominee ‘Anatomy of a Fall
Young French actor Milo Machado-Graner delivers ‘Anatomy of a Fall’s finest performance as the blind son of a mother ­accused of murdering his father. (Neon Cinema)

Jeff Mellinger Screen Shots(Feb. 20, 2024) — Of the three international films nominated for Best Picture, “Anatomy of a Fall” might be the dourest.

An already fractured family suffers the loss of its patriarch. Immediately blamed and put on trial, Sandra (Sandra Huller) must prove her innocence while trying to remain a devoted mother to her blind son, Daniel (Milo Machado Graner). Overlong, the film bogs down in the middle, almost undoing the all-around fine acting.

The most interesting thing about the film may be the look we get into the French court system. In the United States, the accused only has to answer questions when on the stand. In France, either side can ask the accused a question at any time.

When witnesses recount information, Sandra must always be on her toes and prepared to answer whatever questions get thrown at her. The jury sits up above, on either side of the judge. How can they be a jury of her peers if they always look down on her?

While Huller and Swann Arlaud as her counsel are both fantastic, Machado Graner may deliver the finest performance. While not actually blind, he does a very convincing job as the perpetually torn Daniel. He has to either accept that his mother killed his father, or that his father committed suicide.

His scenes with the court-appointed babysitter Marge (Jehnny Beth) are few, but very impactful. She spends a year living with him to help make sure Sandra cannot unduly influence Daniel’s feelings. I would have liked more interactions between them.

As the trial goes on, the film does not have enough characters to lean on. Some of the trial scenes are powerful, but after a while, they just drag on. With the outcome lose-lose for all, it is difficult to root for or against Sandra. A film that plods along and provides no discernible protagonist is a tough sell. B-

Statham stronger than ‘Beekeeper’ plot

For any Jason Statham fan, “The Beekeeper” is a fine addition to his oeuvre.

While not as menacing as “Wrath of Man” nor as jovial as the “Transporter” series, “The Beekeeper” offers Statham a nice, if uneven, middle ground.

Action icon Jasan Statham stars in “Beekeeper.”

As Adam Clay, Statham does his best at channeling his inner John Wick. A friendly old woman supplies Clay with a place to keep his bees while the two of them provide each other a necessary company. When she gets scammed by some dirty online punks, Clay regresses to his former self.

The Beekeepers, as the film’s heavy exposition tells us, are the most secretive of groups. Unknown by almost every other governmental group, they provide a service necessary only when a major upheaval threatens the very fabric of society. We never hear about exactly when they were unleashed in the past, so it is not clear what they actually do.

Clay spends the entire movie going up the chain, from low-level scammers of smarmy middlemen to the head of the company. Jeremy Irons is in fine form as someone with a toe in the scamming water, but not so committed as to fear the full ire of Clay’s wrath.

The subplot about the old woman’s daughter (who just happens to be an FBI agent) slowly uncovering the truth about Clay is laborious. When written well, this type of storytelling can breed suspense and bring together plot points in a very dramatic way. Here, I just kept wanting them to hurry up and figure it out.

It is fun to watch Clay give comeuppance to scammers who think they can get away with bilking people out of their life savings. Statham certainly seems to be having a good time.

As a Statham movie, “The Beekeeper” is worth checking out. In general, though, there is much better fare out there. B-

The latest from Sundance

Anna (Renate Reinsve) deals with grief as the dead return to life in ‘Handling the ­Undead.’ (Nordisk Film)

I rented a couple of movies via the Sundance Film Festival online portal. I am glad they are continuing this trend for those of us who cannot get to Utah for the festival. Yet, they are in year three of these offerings, and there are still far too many video and audio issues with their streams.

“Handling the Undead” posits a world where the recently dead have returned, not so much to eat us (at least not right away) but to give their loved ones an extended time to grieve.

Who would not want even one more day with a deceased lover, son or wife? Three families experience the return of a loved one and immediately welcome them back. While skeptical, they, like many of us might, accept their loved ones back in any form.

Director Thea Hvistendahl gets the pathos just right. Even though well-placed frights complement some of the more tender moments, the film could have used a few more scares. I hope this film will eventually reach a wide audience. B

“Lollapalooza.” is a fascinating look at the epic music festival of the 1990s. I was, and still am, a huge fan of so many of those bands. I wish they had gotten more interviews and not rushed through each iteration so quickly, but I enjoyed every minute of it. It will be released on Paramount+ this spring along with an unaired final segment. A-

Jeff Mellinger

Jeff Mellinger is a screen writer and film buff. He holds a BA in Film Studies and an MFA in film production. He lives in Concord.