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French Filmmaker Justine Triet Wins 2023 Palme d'Or for 'Anatomy of a Fall'

French filmmaker Justine Triet received the 2023 Palme d'Or at Cannes for her meticulous dissection of a marriage in the psychological thriller "Anatomy of a Fall." Although the film was well-received, it was not the clear favorite among attendees as "The Zone of Interest" was. This choice has reignited the discussion of whether the recognition of female-directed films, not only at the festival but also in the industry as a whole, is an effort to address the historical lack of acknowledgement.

This marks the third time, in 76 editions, that a woman has received the top prize. However, Triet's selection sparked a debate that extended beyond the film itself due to her controversial statements upon receiving the award. Her remarks generated a wave of opinions in French politics.

Triet stated that it was impossible to separate her speech from the current events in her country and the escalating protests against Macron's proposed pension reform, which has already been approved. She asserted that these protests had been denied and "scandalously repressed." She further stated, "The commodification of culture defended by the neoliberal government is in the process of breaking the French cultural exception, the same cultural exception without which I would not be here today." Notably, members of the government, such as Culture Minister Rima Abdul Malak, expressed their view of this as an injustice, saying, "This film could not have seen the light without our model of financing French cinema, which allows for a unique diversity in the world. Let's not forget that."

Just as Triet's statements and the dynamics of the competition were questioned, the protagonist of her film is brought to trial to prove her innocence. The story of "Anatomy of a Fall" introduces Samuel and Sandra, who retreat with their 11-year-old blind son, Daniel, to live secluded from the world in the mountains for a year. Their peaceful life is disrupted when Samuel is found dead at the foot of their house, leading to an investigation into whether it was a homicide or suicide. Sandra becomes the prime suspect and must stand trial in the presence of her son.

The film is described as a meticulous dissection of a marriage, in which the innocence of a preadolescent boy is tainted as he listens to the story of his parents. The director explains, "This couple has a son who discovers his parents' story during a trial, and this boy transitions from childhood, characterized by absolute trust in his mother, to a state of doubt. In my previous films, children were present, but they didn't have a voice; they were just there, and we didn't have their perspective. It's as if the time has come to integrate the child's gaze into the story to balance it with Sandra, the central character."

The intersection of documentary elements with the narrative is a recurring theme in Triet's work. She further elaborates, "Anatomy of a Fall gradually turned into a lengthy interrogation: from the house to the court, from the court to the house. However, it's not a series of scenes where the characters are questioned. I wanted to return to more realism, almost documentary-like, and delve deeper into complexity and profound emotions. Everything moved toward a greater nakedness; there isn't even music. This is my rawest film."

Ruben Östlund, heading this year's jury, which included Argentine director Damián Szifrón, stated that the selection of "Anatomy of a Fall" as the grand winner was supported by all members and that the story provided them with "an intense experience, which is what cinema should be."

The lead role in "Anatomy of a Fall" is played by Sandra Hüller, one of Germany's current acclaimed actresses who gained international recognition with the acclaimed comedy "Toni Erdmann." Hüller also starred in another film at Cannes this year, "The Zone of Interest," which received other major accolades at the festival, including the Grand Prix, a special jury prize, and the International Critics' Association Award, the FIPRESCI.

The character of Sandra in "Anatomy of a Fall" was specifically written for the actress, which is why she retained her own name. Triet had previously worked with Hüller in her film "Sybil," where she played a smaller role as a film director who interferes in the love triangle, the central axis of the story, in order to save the production she is working on. Justine stated that knowing she would work with Hüller again motivated her to continue with this film. Regarding Hüller's performance, Triet commented, "She brought a belief and a truth that transcended the script. At the end of the shoot, I had the impression that she had given a real part of herself, and what the camera captured could never be repeated."

Justine Triet, the French director, competed with five other female directors for the top prize in the official competition, which included a total of 21 titles. The previous female winners of the Palme d'Or were Jane Campion ("The Piano," 2001) and Julia Ducournau ("Titane," 2021).

Part of this text was published by Sandra M. Ríos in El Nuevo Siglo newspaper on June 2, 2023.

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