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French director takes top prize at Cannes

French director Justine Triet became the third woman to win the top prize Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival on Saturday with her gripping and icy “Anatomy of a Fall”.

Victory for the tense courtroom drama about a writer accused of her husband’s murder capped a strong year for women directors at the French Riviera festival.

“I have always made films about women and here, I went even further in the idea of showing a woman character who is not easy to understand in the first instance,” Triet told AFP ahead of Cannes. 

The 44-year-old follows two previous women winners of the prestigious Palme d’Or — Jane Campion for “The Piano” (1993) and Julia Ducournau for “Titane” (2021).

Born on July 17, 1978, Triet grew up in Paris and studied arts in the French capital.

“My mother had a fairly complex life, worked and raised three children, two of whom were not her own. My father was very absent”, she told AFP. 

She ditched her studies after a few years to devote herself to film and made her first documentary in 2007 about student protests that were taking place at the time.

“Anatomy of a Fall” is her fourth feature. 

Her debut “Age of Panic” was set around the presidential elections in France in 2012 and caused a sensation when it premiered at Cannes the following year. 

Her next movie, the romcom “In Bed With Victoria” (2016) was nominated for multiple Cesars, France’s equivalent of the Oscars.

– Activist director –

Triet hit a stridently militant note in her acceptance speech for the Palme on Saturday.

“The country suffered from historic protests over the reform of the pension system. These protests were denied… repressed in a shocking way,” she said. 

She also criticised the “commercialisation of culture” by President Emmanuel Macron’s government. 

Her speech provoked a swift response from Culture Minister Rima Abdul Malak, who said she was “gobsmacked” by Triet’s “unfair” comments.

Triet co-wrote her Palme-winning film with her partner Arthur Harari, an actor and director.

“For a very long time when I watched films, I took myself for the boy, I identified with the male role”, she said, referring to the lack of options for women in the industry when she was young. 

“Anatomy of a Fall” features a show-stopping performance from German actress Sandra Hueller. 

Hueller also had a brief and comical role in Triet’s previous movie “Sibyl”, which competed at Cannes in 2019.

“Everything that comes out of her is 100 percent strong,” Triet said of Hueller, who also starred in the runner-up at this year’s Cannes, Grand Prix-winner “The Zone of Interest”.

“She is an actress who has a real point of view on her character, there is a real exchange.”

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