Justine Triet & Arthur Harari: Anatomy of a Couple

Justine Triet and Arthur Harari, partners in life and cinema, talk about the rewards and risks of making their Oscar- and Palme d'Or-winning film Anatomy of a Fall.

Justine Triet is the third woman to win the Palme d’Or, for her fourth film, Anatomie d’une chute (Anatomy of a Fall). It stars Sandra Hüller as a writer accused of murdering her husband, who is mysteriously found dead. Both a thriller and courtroom drama set in the Alps, the brilliant film is a complex psychological journey into the depths of a dysfunctional relationship.

Triet cowrote the film with Arthur Harari, director of the remarkable Onoda: 10,000 Nights in the Jungle (winner of the 2022 César award for best original screenplay), who is also her partner and father of her two children. The couple began writing during the Covid lockdown, finding time between family meals and naps. At the 2024 Oscars, Triet and Harari received the award for Best Original Screenplay.

Harari has starred in Triet’s three previous films, La Bataille de Solférino (Age of Panic), Victoria and Sibyl – all vivid and modern portraits of women that interrogate their relationship to work, men, motherhood and society’s expectations. Anatomy is their second writing collaboration, and, as they explain, the process was both emotionally draining and deeply stimulating for the couple, who mix cinema and love in fiction and real life.

 

Do you remember when you first met?

JUSTINE TRIET Yes, it was in Brive, wasn’t it?

ARTHUR HARARI It was a festival of medium-length films in Brive in 2007. Both of us had films there.

JT He won the Grand Prix and I got a mention, so we crossed paths onstage. At the time, I was in a different universe. I had made a documentary film called Sur place (On the Spot), and Arthur had made a fiction film, La Main sur la gueule (Hand to Mouth).

AH We saw each other again but only occasionally. It was two years later, in 2009, that we really got to know each other, well, personally.

JT We didn’t like each other at first.

AH You found me annoying.

JT I found you a bit pretentious. I thought: “Who is this guy? The film world seems really weird.”

AH I thought her film was interesting, but I had some criticisms!

JT We weren’t at all predestined to work together or to be together! (Laughs)

When did you decide to write together?

AH On the film La Bataille de Solférino. I had read the script because I was acting in it, and we improvised a lot. For Victoria, I reread the script many times, but we really cowrote Sibyl. I have a taste for storytelling, narrative experimentation and revisiting classic forms. I think there came a point when Justine said to her- self, “It would be really interesting for us to write together,” since we watched films together and talked about them a lot. It happened naturally. She asked me to bring something to the table, discuss it and see what would come out of it.

JT Arthur’s work on his films is very compartmentalized. He finds it hard, for example, to let me read his work. I ask him for a lot of help, and I give him more of a part in my films. I also liked filming him and found it a joy to experience that with him, apart from our lives together, our children and so on. It’s a chance to experience something very special together. But then the risk is that it eats everything up. It’s fascinating, but we’re not going to do it again for the next film. I always need to include people – not just him but also all the people around me. I find that even if it’s sometimes more complicated to organize, it’s also a real joy.

Arthur, what do you bring to Justine’s world?

AH It’s hard to say, exactly. What I can say for sure is that my mind is extremely different from Justine’s. I am very obsessive. I have a very obsessive, Cartesian, analytical mind, which I’m wary of because I can come up with rather dry forms. I’m fascinated by questions of storytelling and narrative balance.

JT I feel like we’re completely different, and at the same time, we’re obsessive in the same way. We come together in our obsessiveness. And I think the fact that we had two minds writing this film, which was very technical and very demanding, was important. Frankly, I think it would have taken me four years to write it on my own because I would have gone back to so many versions. But there was something very strong and very dense about it. All of a sudden, it clicked. But it’s true that we’re fundamentally different.

“I have the impression that we’re completely different, and at the same time, we’re obsessive in the same way. We come together in our obsessiveness.” Justine Triet

What does a writing session between the two of you look like? What was your process?

JT We’re very strong together at the beginning. We talk; it’s just discussions. It was the early days of Covid-19, and I have very precise memories of the moment when we decided that sound would be very important in the film and how we came to that decision. Then comes perhaps the most difficult phase mentally: you think about it nonstop, night and day. You wake up and say, “Wait, I’ve got an idea because, actually, this isn’t right!” We were completely immersed in the overall form. For example, we came up with the ending a year after we started writing. After that, we worked out the whole structure of the film. And then we were on the computer, one of us writing, the other speaking. And there’s a phase where we’re really alone. We ping-pong scenes back and forth during the scene-writing phase, the phase I like the most because it’s so much fun.

AH It starts to take shape. You start to imagine the characters talking, acting, moving. It becomes living matter. I also remember that together we would verbalize things a lot, act them out, especially the fight scene.

JT There were 15 versions of the fight scene. It was mad- ness. We never agreed!

AH For a long time, it seemed vulgar and clichéd.

JT Mostly banal.

AH We’d say to ourselves, “But we’ve seen scenes like before, where they’re grabbing each other.”

JT We often said to each other: “We don’t like these people. We’re not interested in them.” You have to get past that. Even though I love Maurice Pialat, I’d often say, “We have to try to get away from the impulse-driven scene we’ve already seen 500 times,” which is almost a cliché even for foreigners in France. I remember quite well thinking that it would be a theoretical battle that, in the end, would become something fairly banal, a violent physical struggle, which these characters, unfortunately, can’t avoid. But the idea was for it to last and for there to be a real progression.

Anatomy of a Fall (2023). Image courtesy of Mk2.

What’s interesting about writing as a couple is that, in the end, you have to accept each other’s point of view. Were your writing debates mirrored in the couple’s debates?

JT Yes, absolutely. But I wouldn’t want to confuse the two because – and I’m going to use a rather terrible phrase – I don’t think we’re… We’re narcissists, but not to the point of thinking that we are interesting enough to inject our personal lives into this couple! Sometimes people say to us, “It’s you,” but it’s really not us. And it’s not us for a very specific reason, which is that every time I make a film I’ve written, I write it in such a way that I don’t have to live that experience. I think that, deep down, I’m doing the opposite of what Joan Didion said, which I find fascinating: that she solved her real-life problems through writing.

AH Yes, but it’s a way of saying, “I won’t go there,” by sublimating in a catastrophic way.

JT Yes, I don’t think we’ll do it again right away because it’s very intense. We have a life, we have a family, all that. And we need to get out of ourselves. But on the other hand, it’s been a pretty great experience.

A longer version of this feature was originally published in Mastermind 14 – buy it here.

Time Traveling with Nicolas Ghesquière

Read the interview

Becoming Sofia Coppola

Read the interview
Jane Birkin

Remembering Icon Jane Birkin

Read the interview