For Anatomy of a Fall, Justine Triet and Arthur Harari co-wrote one of the most complex and intense relationships between a married couple this year — a film that already earned the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and is primed to be a major Oscar contender this season. Triet and Harari are partners in real life (and share two children) and say that approaching the story from that unique perspective proved “complicated” but “exciting.”
“Jodie Foster told me very funny things,” recalls Triet. “She said, ‘OK, when I’m starting to write, I think about what is the most shameful for my character.’ I didn’t think that at the first moment, but we were thinking we have to dive [into] the mediocrity of this character, we have to be very frank. If we just [write] a new movie about a couple [that’s] very safe, to say, ‘OK, we have a few problems’ … I think we had to be a little ugly in a way.”
Triet, who also directed the film, adds that the story — about a novelist named Sandra Voyter (played by German actress Sandra Hüller) who is suspected of her husband Samuel’s murder after he’s found dead from an apparent fall from their attic window — was conceived in two steps.
“First was the idea of wanting to dive into a relationship and a couple and into their complexities,” says the French director, through a translator. “And then the second idea was wanting to have this tandem between a mother and a child [Daniel, played by Milo Machado Graner], and this child trying to figure out who his mother really is. The idea of the trial came after that, to supplant and tie these [ideas together].”
Sandra’s murder trial, Triet and Harari say, was a challenge in and of itself. Triet notes that things often got lost in translation because French expressions don’t often translate well into English. (American audiences may also be taken aback by the French legal process, which is much different.)
But challenges weren’t limited to the courtroom scenes. Working with the dog who played the family pet, Snoop, the writing duo say, was technically difficult because in the scene where he discovers the body, they couldn’t get him to walk as slowly as they had imagined on paper. Similarly, the first scene in which the dog’s ball ominously tumbles down a flight of stairs proved to be tricky. “It took so many tries before we figured out that the only way to get it at the pace at which we wanted it and for it to stop where we needed it to stop so that the dog could pick it up was to drench it in glue, to change the way that the ball was coming down,” explains Triet.
Whether Sandra actually killed Samuel — or whether he simply fell from the attic window — has split audiences all over the world, and that was Triet and Harari’s intention from the beginning.
“We worked to keep it as ambiguous as possible,” says Harari. “Not because it’s a game but because the main thing in this film is to get to that point where the child is really in a dilemma, because he understands that he probably will never know, and it’s torture for him. We had to put the audience in the same position.”
This story first appeared in the Nov. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.