Herbert J. Cohen

Kosher Movies: Anatomy of a Fall

Many years ago, a congregant of mine was interviewed in the local press. The journalist asked him who were some of his mentors, and he answered that I was. Surprised by his answer, I asked him why he saw me as an important life mentor. He responded: “Every time I ask you a question, you always begin by telling me it’s complicated. After a while, I realized that you were asking me to see things from multiple perspectives, not just in terms of black and white.” Indeed, grey is the hue of many of life’s encounters; and Anatomy of a Fall is a classic example of this notion.

Novelist Sandra Voyter lives with her husband, Samuel, and her visually impaired son, Daniel, in a remote mountain home close to Grenoble. After taking a walk in the snow with his dog Snoop, he discovers his father lying dead from an apparent fall from an open attic window. Was it an accident, or was he murdered by his wife Sandra, or was it suicide?

The majority of the film takes place in a French courtroom where this question is debated. Interestingly, there is almost no background music in the film, compelling the viewer to focus on the words that people say both in and out of the courtroom.

The prosecutor and the defense team explore various theories. As Sandra’s trial progresses, we learn that that Samuel recently had taken anti-depressants. Moreover, we see that their marriage bond was fragile after their son’s tragic accident causing his sight to be impaired, an accident precipitated by Samuel’s failure to pick up Daniel after school. Samuel called a babysitter to pick up Daniel from school because he was too busy. The consequence: a passing motorcycle smashed into Daniel.

Furthermore, Samuel and Sandra have had arguments about their professional relationship since both are writers, and both want time to pursue their own goals without interference from the other. In sum, it is both a volatile and complicated marriage and ultimately difficult to determine how Samuel died. The pursuit of truth is circuitous and, ultimately, elusive.

Rabbi Ari Kahn writes about how difficult it is to perceive truth in the face of conflicting claims. He begins by analyzing a passage from Deuteronomy: “Justice, justice you shall pursue, that you may inherit the land which the Lord your God gives you.” Rabbi Kahn asks: why is the word justice repeated? Perhaps it is only to emphasize the importance of justice.

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 32b), however, suggests something deeper. The Sages posit that there are two types of justice: strict law and compromise (emergency decrees), Justice, in the final analysis, is subjective and often situational. Life is complex and it is difficult to ascertain absolute truth. The court desires truth based on the principles in the Torah, but there may be extenuating circumstances that a judge should consider before rendering a verdict. This same idea should animate the way we judge other people as well.

The apprehension of truth is not always easy. When the Rabbis associate the attribute of truth with the patriarch Jacob, it is puzzling since we know that Jacob began his career by deceiving his father Isaac. But it may be that Jacob saw the complexity of finding truth and that is why he, more than any of the patriarch, is an emblem of truth in Jewish tradition.

For me, a seminal statement about the pursuit of truth and justice in found in the tractate of Sanhedrin 6b. Here there is recognition that, at the end of day, you occasionally have to judge things simply by the evidence presented before you, and accept the reality that your judgment may be imperfect. At the conclusion of Anatomy of Fall, you may conclude that you know the truth, but it may not be beyond a shadow of doubt.

About the Author
Originally from Mt. Vernon, New York, Herbert J. Cohen served in the pulpit rabbinate in Atlanta at the beginning of his career. After six years, he moved into the educational rabbinate and served for 23 years as Principal of Yeshiva High School of Atlanta. In 2010, he and his wife came on aliyah to Israel. His latest book, published by Urim Publishers, is "Kosher Movies: A Film Critic Discovers Life Lessons at the Cinema." He may be reached at
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