French director Justine Triet’s Anatomy Of A Fall premiered in Competition at Cannes over the weekend to a buzzy reception with its star Sandra Hüller being tipped as a front-runner for the festival’s coveted best actress prize.
Hüller plays a German writer living with her husband and their visually-impaired son in a remote mountain chalet in the French Alps, who finds herself accused of murder when her husband dies in a fatal fall from an upper window of their home.
Her complex nature is laid bare in a trial hinging on her son’s testimony and a sound recording of a heated argument with her husband.
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Triet is among only a handful of women to have competed in Cannes more than once in their career.
She was previously in the running for the Palme d’Or with Sibyl in 2019. Prior to that, her fourth feature In Bed With Victoria, starring Virginie Efira as a workaholic lawyer with a disastrous love life, opened Cannes Critics’ Week in 2016.
The director talked to Deadline about the new film
DEADLINE: What was the genesis of the film?
JUSTINE TRIET: I wanted to make a trial film, building on my experiences with In Bed With Victoria, as well as a film that went into the dynamics of couples in more depth. My original idea was to make a mini-series but my producers convinced me to drop that and to make a film.
My aim was to plunge into the life of a couple, and questions about male-female relations as well as what is meant by family. When I started to conceive the film, the idea was to look at both the physical and psychological fall of the couple. That’s the Bergman-esque side.
Everything is constructed around the mother and the child. My daughter was about 10 years old, and I said to myself, “You don’t much about who I am, my life, my history”. I imagined a story in which a child’s absolute confidence in their mother, is slowly eroded, and damaged, putting doubts at the heart of their relationship.
DEADLINE. How did you come up with the idea of the sound recording at the heart of the trial?
TRIET: What interests me most in the film is the relationship between truth and evidence… I liked this idea of a person’s life being captured on their phone and what would happen if the contents of this telephone were suddenly made public. That’s at the heart of the film and in particular, the recording of the fight between the couple. We originally planned to weave a lot more recordings into the film, but in the end, we simplified it.
When Sandra’s character says the recording is not reality. It’s very contemporary. It’s what we live today. A trial is a place where things are transformed and given extra weight, creating fresh fictions. I liked the idea of creating a film where two fictions rode side-by-side, that of the defence and that of the defence for the dead man – and neither version is necessarily the truth.
DEADLINE: The film is extremely layered. Putting it together must of being a bit like completing a puzzle…
TRIET: It took me a lot longer to write than usual. A trial film, if it’s not a comedy, demands a lot of time. You have to pay attention to even the tiniest detail. There were two of us writing the screenplay, which was good because we had two brains to share the work. The film is constructed layer after layer. You use the word ‘puzzle’ and that’s what it was, the idea of how are we going to construct and reveal this character without some big denouement or twist at the end. That’s something I really wanted to avoid.
DEADLINE: You’ve worked with Sandra Hüller in the past on Sibyl, in which she had a supporting role. What led you to cast her in the lead role here?
TRIET: I really wrote this film for Sandra Hüller. I wrote with her in my head. I said to myself, “I don’t really know who Sandra is. I could spend years trying to understand her.” I’m fascinated by her. She is so full of contradictions and complexities, and I wanted to talk about a woman like that.
DEADLINE: The age of the boy in the film and the fact the character is inspired by your own relationship with your daughter is interesting…
TRIET: Absolutely, it’s that key stage where a child passes from childhood to adolescence. I never really talk that much about my life. I keep it very compartmentalized. I have a complex family. My father had lots of different women and I have a very, very blended family. There are lots of family stories and family mythologies that I haven’t talked about but which nourished this work.
DEADLINE: You wrote the screenplay with the writer, director and actor Arthur Harari (Onoda: 10,000 Nights in the Jungle) who is also your life partner. How was that?
TRIET: We’ve worked together in the past but not like this, with this level of intensity, side by side. It’s interesting to work with someone you love but I think it will be the last time. He doesn’t want to work with me again. He said, “Justine, I love you but it’s too much, you ‘vampirize me”. We said the film is important but we mustn’t let it devour us. When you work with someone and you’re in a couple and especially on a subject like this, you need to be organized. Sometimes it was awful, sometimes it was perfect.
DEADLINE: Why did you opt to make the film multi-lingual and have Hüller speak in English, rather than French?
TRIET: It was very important to have this sensitivity, this feeling that the husband and the wife don’t speak the same language, so they communicate through a third language, English. There was also this idea of what it means to be a foreigner on trial in France. To be tried in a country that is not your own can be tough because you’re judged for how you express yourself but as you’re not speaking in your mother tongue and there are lots of filters between you and your reality.
The fact she is a German who speaks English and tries to speak French that creates lots of masks and clouds the issue, creating more confusion around who she is. Sandra speaks English really well. When I cast her I told her that the language would be an important subject in the film… She wanted to speak French and I said no.
DEADLINE: You are one of seven female directors in Competition this year, against four in 2019 when you last competed with Sibyl. Do you think progress is being made in terms of gender parity in cinema?
TRIET: It’s better than when I started out. I’m 44 now but there aren’t enough women making films. We need to work with quotas, which will encourage and help this evolution. When I look at my daughter who is 12 years old and I listen to her conversations with her friends, I can see that things have changed over the last four years, perhaps since MeToo. They have a different vision, but it’s going to take time. There’s a revolution but as a spectator, I still think there aren’t enough films by women.
DEADLINE: When you say quotas. What do you mean? For what?
TRIET: There should be quotas for everything, everything. We need women in positions of power everywhere, not just in cinema, but across society. Women have been involved in cinema forever but in small posts in the shadows. We need to put them in bigger positions. After all, we represent more than half of humanity.
DEADLINE: What does it mean for you personally to be in Competition in Cannes?
TRIET: It’s fantastic. You work for three years on a film d’auteur which isn’t a blockbuster or a Netflix series, and this is the strongest place to show it and connect with international spectators. Cannes it’s not just French, it’s international.
It can be violent. You never know how people are going to react to the film. Sometimes it’s hard because you feel like you’re misunderstood but I have had a lot of luck in Cannes. You can be aggressed but I like this violence, which isn’t physical but rather voyeuristic, You’re watched by lots of people, analyzed and romanticized. It’s a bit like being on trial.
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