EXCLUSIVE: Everybody mingles at Telluride. I have this abiding memory of Bill Kramer, CEO of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, at the festival’s opening-day brunch set atop a mountain in the San Juan range of the Rockies, bounding over to Cannes Palme d’Or winner Justine Triet and Sandra Hüller, her sublime lead star in the prize-winning movie Anatomy of a Fall.
Kramer hadn’t seen the movie at that point, but he’d heard about Triet’s brilliant Palmeacceptance speech, where she’d lambasted French President Emmanuel Macron over his draconian measures against those protesting new plans for pensions.
A vigorous conversation ensued on the mountaintop about politics and movies.
I told Kramer that he’ll more than likely see Triet and Hüller again in March, if not before.
They also include The Animal Kingdom by Thomas Cailley, Sons of Ramses by Clement Cogitore, The Taste of Things by Tràn Anh Hungh and On the Wondering Paths by Dennis Imbert.
Of course, Triet’s movie surely will garner nominations in other categories.
Weeks after the summit meeting at Telluride and a soiree there hosted by Neon, I met with Triet and Hüller on Zoom and pressed the director again about her acceptance speech in Cannes, where she charged that the protests were “repressed in a shocking way” and slammed Macron’s pattern of “dominating power.”
Triet explained that “the important thing for me in making the speech was to speak about how to preserve and protect this space of creativity that is so envied worldwide, where a whole diversity of film is being generated, both large and small productions alike.”
Anatomy of a Fall was born out of Triet’s desire to work with Hüller after they’d worked together four years ago on Sibyl. This time, Triet wanted Hüller as her star.
“I had two projects with her in mind — one that I gave up because it was not good enough,” she confessed.
“I was obsessed with Sandra,” Triet told me. “So after I started this one, Sandra was on my mind … but I was afraid of her.
“No, afraid of her judgment,” she clarified, “because I was like, ‘”’OK, maybe she wouldn’t love it.’”
Triet was fearful that Hüller would decline to play the movie’s protagonist, Sandra, an author who stands trial accused of murdering her French husband Samuel (played by Samuel Theis) at their chalet in the French Alps.
Hüller, on the left of my screen, smiled broadly and revealed that when she received Triet’s screenplay, she read it “50, 60, maybe 70 times. To me, it was ready. It was perfect.”
Sandra and Samuel were a central concern for Triet, but just as important was the relationship between Sandra and Daniel, the couple’s sight-impaired son played by Milo Machado Graner.
Triet said that she wanted to explore what happens “when trust is lost between” a mother and her child and then to dramatize what occurs when “this child decides to become this sort of central judge and witness” of his mother. “And going with this consideration that we never really know our parents,” she added.
The filmmaker was “very curious” about the courtroom movie genre. ”I think there are so many traps when you do a movie like this.”
Hüller nodded in agreement. ”There are some rules and some unspoken rules, those things that we’ve always done the way that they are done now. And some of us are really bored by that,” she noted.
The very things that made Sandra a successful novelist — her way with languages and narrative and her confidence — are the very things that go against her in a courtroom.
“The way in which she stands in this courtroom, she could be this menace who could be in the business of duping us,” said Triet.
Hüller agreed. People look at her in court and think ”it can’t be that good and it can’t be that easy. And she can’t also be in grief when she’s like that. People have to be one thing or the other. And they can’t be everything. But people are everything. People have all the feelings, and they have contradictory feelings — things that don’t fit together. And the only thing she does, opening up in front of everybody … she just doesn’t hide anything.”
Except for one little detail, Hüller added with a wink.
The actress said “that kind of impulse that happens instantly to judge people that we can’t really read or who just stand up for themselves. When I think about myself in such a situation, I would excuse myself and I would apologize for everything that I do, and she just doesn’t. … And that makes her an unusual woman.”
Hüller said that when she stands back and looks very clearly at the Sandra character in the movie, “You are drawn to her, drawn away from her. In some moments, you wish to be like her.”
She said that she has sensed women judging Sandra in the film “especially about the behavior towards her son, which is also something strange to me because, how dare you? That’s really something that we shouldn’t do, especially as women. We shouldn’t judge each other other’s behavior towards children.”
And Hüller found it “really rare” to be “one person in cinema and in life who’s a real adult person who takes responsibility for all their actions,” said the thespian who gives a more chilling adult performance in Jonathan Glazer’s TheZone of Interest, which won the Grand Prix at Cannes.
But Triet insisted that it’s not easy to create grown-up movies. “Because we have to live with our ghosts, you know? We have to live with our creation, so it’s not easy sometimes.”
Her comment about a “real adult person” made me cheer because there are very few films around this season that explore adults involved in adult situations. Half the movies I saw at TIFF were ridiculously infantile, but layer by gripping layer, Anatomy of a Fall has us falling for it.
The pic will be screening at the New York Film Festival next month.