If there was an award for the savviest U.S. distributor at the Cannes Film Festival, it would have to go to Neon, which scored its fourth consecutive Palme d’Or at the conclusion of the 76th edition on Saturday. The top prize went to French director Justine Triet for “Anatomy of a Fall,” a murder mystery and courtroom drama starring Sandra Hüller that Neon acquired shortly after its festival premiere on Tuesday.
In the two weeks leading up to the end of this year’s festival, critical consensus focused on “The Zone of Interest,” Jonathan Glazer’s austere riff on Martin Amis’ novel about the commander of Auschwitz. As a result, many assumed it would be an obvious choice for the Palme.
But critics don’t pick that prize; the jury is composed of filmmakers and actors who tend to land on a consensus choice for the top prize while spreading the love in other categories (the Palme winner can’t be awarded any other prizes). “Zone” won the Grand Prix — essentially second-place — setting up the A24 project for a bright future beyond the festival. The German-language production could wind up as an international Oscar submission for the UK, while the impeccable craft of the movie could set it up for other major categories, including Best Director and Best Picture.
Still, many journalists seemed surprised that the one movie that generated the most noise over the course of two weeks didn’t get the biggest award. “It was not easy,” a coy Ostlund said at a jury press conference. “I think all of us had to really fight for what we believed was the right film and the competition was hard.” He added that the premiere of “Anatomy” was “an intense screening. It’s exactly what cinema should be about. I’m very excited to see that film come out in the world.”
For now, then, the spotlight shines brightest on “Anatomy of a Fall” — and it’s in good company. Neon’s first Palme win came in 2020 with “Parasite,” which launched it into a long awards season that culminated with its historic Best Picture win. It was followed by 2021’s “Titane,” Julia Ducournau’s feminist body horror effort that became France’s official submission, and then last year’s Ruben Ostlund-directed satire “Triangle of Sadness,” which landed Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. Will “Anatomy of a Fall” continue on a similar path?
The directors of those last two winners took part in this year’s jury, with Ostlund serving as its president. The Swedish filmmaker said at the start of the festival that he would rather win a third Palme d’Or than an Oscar. However, as both of his Palme d’Or winners were also Oscar nominees (he was also nominated for his earlier Palme winner “The Square”), Ostlund understands the potential springboard effect of a Palme win — and so does Neon, which will now aim to position the movie for the year ahead with a few obvious categories.
Hüller, who has been a Cannes favorite ever since her acclaimed turn in the 2016 comedy “Toni Erdmann,” also had a supporting role as the wife of the Auschwitz commander played by Christian Friedel. Many expected Hüller to take home a Best Actress prize in her most prominent year at the festival. She didn’t, but still got called back to the festival to join Triet onstage for the awards, and the UTA-repped actress stands a good chance of expanding her U.S. profile this year as the centerpiece of a largely English-language production.
That also creates a curious challenge for “Anatomy” when it comes to Oscar potential. “Anatomy of a Fall” will prove to be a challenging theatrical proposition, but any audiences wary of so-called “foreign language” movies won’t be deterred. The movie finds Hüller playing a German novelist accused of murdering her husband at their snowy lodge. Her courtroom interrogation consumes a large portion of the story as it bathes in ambiguity, and she often uses English language to communicate because her character struggles in French.
Oscar requirements for international submissions mandate that at least 51 percent of the dialogue must be in a language other than English, and English dominates several key scenes in the movie. However, sources tell IndieWire that sales agent mk2 make it clear in negotiations that the dialogue of “Anatomy” is predominantly French, and could qualify for the country’s Oscar submission if its committee were to select it later this year. It’s up to the Academy now to check the math on that.
The Palme win for Triet marks only the third time the prize has gone to a woman after Ducournau’s own win in 2021, which followed Jane Campion’s prize for “The Piano” way back in 1993. With 33 percent of the Cannes selection directed by women and seven in competition, the odds were higher than ever before for another woman to take the prize. Onstage to present the announcement of the Palme d’Or this year, Jane Fonda put that progress in a historical context by recalling her first trip to the festival in the early 1960s. “There were no women directors competing at that time and it never even occurred to us that there was something wrong with that,” she said. “We’ve come a long way, and we have a long way to go, but still we have to celebrate change when it happens.”
Nevertheless, it would be a fool’s errand to argue that the jury singled out Triet solely on the basis of her gender. “Anatomy of a Fall” is first-rate Hitchcockian storytelling with an audacious legal twist that keeps audiences guessing, and it follows Triet’s well-received dark comedy “Sybil” that played in competition in 2019. She has been on track to deliver a universally well-received Cannes hit for a while now. “This film is the most intimate one I’ve ever written, the one that’s closest to me,” she said in her Cannes speech. She added that she initially planned the project as a TV series until her producers talked her into making it as a feature. “I thought I would move on quickly, do something else,” she said. “I simply would like to say at this stage that I’m very pleased I’ve made a film.”
Triet’s speech took a political turn when she noted the current protests over France’s decision to raise the retirement from 62 to 64. On top of that, she also expressed concern over the end to France’s “cultural exception” to art that reduces the value-added tax for creative endeavors. “The merchandization of culture defended by the French government is breaking the French cultural exception,” she said. “Without this cultural exception, I would not be here before you today. This award is dedicated to all those who cannot manage to shoot films today. I occupied this space 15 years ago in a less hostile world where it was still possible to make mistakes and start again.”
The specificity of those remarks may or may not remain a part of Triet’s campaign as “Anatomy of a Fall” makes its way into the world. But whatever happens next, it seems likely that its profile will keep expanding after Cannes. As the ceremony host Chiara Mastroianni said at the start of the show: “It’s the closing night, but it’s not finished. Spectators will now step in and spread the word about the films here.”
Check out the full list of awards winners here.