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Justine Triet on her film 'Anatomy of a Fall'

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The new French film "Anatomy Of A Fall" is a whodunit.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ANATOMY OF A FALL")

ANTOINE REINARTZ: (As Avocat General) Now, looking for a stranger who walks in, kills him while you were sleeping right above, and Daniel was out for a walk, is that your [expletive] strategy? Samuel had no enemies that...

SANDRA HULLER: (As Sandra Voyter) Stop it. Stop. I did not kill him.

REINARTZ: (As Avocat General) That's not the point.

SIMON: Or did anybody do it? Was it an accident, a decision driven by despair? A young boy, Daniel, who is unsighted, finds his father Samuel dead outside of their house in the Alps. His mother, Sandra, is arrested and accused in court as the author of the crime. "Anatomy Of A Fall" is the latest film from Justine Triet, who won the Palme d'Or award. It stars Sandra Huller in a performance that's won wide acclaim as a writer who is the widow of an aspiring writer, and the mother of the young boy who's discovered his father. Justine Triet joins us now from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

JUSTINE TRIET: Thanks to you to invite me.

SIMON: And you're joined by your interpreter, Assia Zauberman. Thank you also for being with us.

ASSIA ZAUBERMAN: Hi.

SIMON: This is a heartbreaking and absorbing film. Tell us about the family of three at the center.

TRIET: (Through interpreter) It's a family that faces the challenge every day of having the two parents of this young boy, Daniel, who are trying to exercise the same craft and who have the same desire to be a writer - the same ambitions. And in trying to negotiate their relationship, they're traversed by the commitment to the idea of reciprocity that they're struggling to enact. And there's this frustration of the father in front of this woman who is a successful writer - more successful than he is. And so I think that they've gone through successive crises and that where we pick up the movie, where we begin, is in this place where they are in their relationship and have this form of sort of a limping relationship from the attempt to find balance.

SIMON: Yeah. There's tension between the parents. And does Samuel feel guilt over Daniel's injury?

TRIET: (Through interpreter) Yes. And I think that Sandra also held it against him for a while. I think every couple and every relationship has their burden to bear and that theirs is a particularly violent burden of this accident that happened to this child. And then underwritten in the film is the fact that this accident happened when the father didn't show up to go and pick up the child because he was suddenly inspired to write. So there's this dangerous idea that one's creative ambition can somehow damage or hurt the child. So I think he has a strong culpability, strong guilt that she may also have held against him at some point.

SIMON: Yeah. There is tension at some point between Samuel and Sandra over who really wrote what. And I, of course, must point out, you and your husband, Arthur Harari, often work together on screenplays (laughter). Do you ever have these discussions?

TRIET: We are not married, first of all. But (through interpreter) no. I think we're so very aware of how much one always is stealing from one's environment that I think we've overcome the question of intellectual property in this way. You know, we're so surrounded by so many people who are constantly recording and reappropriating the things that surrounds them. It can be a theft, or it can be an homage. It depends on how it's done, of course. I'm not speaking about the cases where there's a clear attempt to mimic or imitate somebody's voice. That's a different story. But otherwise, I think it's a form of art of appropriation, where we're sponges in this way.

(Through interpreter) And we should say that Arthur is a director in his own right. And recently, I looked over his shoulder and saw him write something that came directly from a family story of mine with my mother and my father. I can't quite remember. But it made me smile in this way. And, yeah, I think when somebody tries to actually steal the body of work of somebody else, it's a different story. And thankfully we haven't had anything like that between us.

SIMON: I want to ask you about the performance of Sandra Huller - great German actress - as the mother, suddenly a widow and accused killer - I've read she wanted to do her lines in French. But you wanted something else. Could you explain that?

TRIET: (Through interpreter) So to the point of language, so Sandra, of course, had to learn French. And what this means for the character in the attempt of the mastery of French, of course, is to be seen as somebody who is generous and somebody who is going toward others and who is trying to integrate with the environment she's in. But then beyond that was the stakes of the moments where she would be overcome and where in the failure of - she'd be overcome by her emotions, and where the failure of this mastery would make her reach for English as a place to fall back on. And so one thing that is an important device in the film is the way in which we go between one language and the other.

(Through interpreter) And then in terms of her performance more generally, Sandra is somebody who has taught me a lot about presence in performance. And I was somebody who was sort of uninterested and kind of maybe slightly older ideas of a certain kind of performativity and theatricality. As a spectator, when I watch a film, I want to meet somebody who seems to be living something and who is speaking to me so intimately that it seems to go beyond intentionality or their intention to communicate.

SIMON: The courtroom scenes are gripping. What's the challenge of getting so many people, different characters, to register different reactions to what they hear at the same time?

TRIET: It's the most complicated part of my job when there is so much people like this. (Through interpreter) I think it's one of the hardest part of my jobs 'cause one is never prepared enough, and one is never fast enough. And, of course, on a set, time is related to money, and there's never enough of that either. And paradoxically, though, it's, I think, as my career is going on, what I'm finding myself to be most excited by in the four films that I've made, that it's a risk and a challenge that I always sort of rise up to and a place of danger for me that I look forward to and recreate more. In my first film, of course, it was all the more because there was 10,000 people in the streets.

(Through interpreter) But in this case, also, you have the actors and the extras, and there's just too many people that you can't control everything. And so, yes, one might imagine, you know, you have to speak to every single individual that's there. But I don't think that this - that the direction only comes through a kind of explanatory - or an explanation - to the actors. I think it's my job to set an atmosphere that is quite particular. And a lot of people would maybe think that this atmosphere should be an atmosphere of tension.

(Through interpreter) But on the contrary, I think that where I took - set a kind of tensed atmosphere, that's when the image would become a little frozen or a little bit like a telenovela kind of a concentration. Whereas I'm looking for something a little bit more chaotic than that. And I work with fatigue. And I work with waiting. And I work with hunger. And I'm looking for a place where people are maybe a little bit less focused. And in that moment, it's my job to come in and discreetly steal a shot, sometimes from moments where the people don't even know that we're filming.

SIMON: When you make a film like this, do the - does the family at the center of it stay with you for a while?

TRIET: (Through interpreter) Yes, so much. And when it's beautiful, it's great. And when it's not, it's infernal. We have to live with the monsters we create. And I've been living with these people for three years, and I think I'll probably live with them for at least another year. And I think that when one starts as a filmmaker, it's not something that we necessarily conceive of - the way that one's obsessions and fears and anxieties need to speak directly to things that are in our core that concern us and interpolate as directly because then we're going to have to live with them. We're going to have to live with what we put out."

SIMON: Justine Triet. Her new film "Anatomy Of A Fall" has opened here in the United States. Thank you so much for being with us.

TRIET: Thank you. Thank to you to invite me.

SIMON: And our thanks also to Assia Zauberman for her interpreting.

TRIET: Yes. Thank you, Assia.

ZAUBERMAN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHARON VAN ETTEN SONG, "JUST LIKE BLOOD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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