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Before the Fall: Justine Triet x 3

The acclaimed director’s complex and complicated body of work asserts itself with unforgettable dominance.

by Julia Dumbrell

Continuing to play a career-long role of the femme-outsider going against the grain, filmgoers widely know Justine Triet from the Oscar acclaim brought with her masterful crime thriller Anatomy of a Fall (2023), when she became the only woman among all-male directing nominees. In the Palme D’Or winning picture, she presents a debate-provoking woman, Sandra Voyter, accused of killing her husband, one whose innocence is kept uncertain behind inscrutable glares and a cryptic script. But viewed in canon with Triet’s prior works, the lead of her now-acclaimed film becomes all the more complex. 

To get to the root of her challenging female depictions, Triet’s earlier films — Age of Panic (2013), Victoria (2016), and Sibyl (2019) — track her perfecting the skill of the clinically imperfect. Over the last decade, her expertise has surmounted to pictures marked by protagonists so darkly realistic that only another woman pushing against gender roles in pursuit of her craft could have shaped their portrayals. 

Triet’s heroines — Laetitia, Victoria, and Sibyl — are despicable, particularly to a morally conservative and male audience. They are compulsive liars, sex addicts, and workaholics. Their ethical dilemmas spur each film’s plot. Audiences can’t look away; watching these leads call out gender norms by breaking them. If not relatable, it’s fascinating to see Triet’s characters act on their murky instincts.

Perhaps the most uniformly respectable are the women’s professions, though it’s their devotion to these jobs that thickens the plot. Triet’s trilogy of films feature a journalist, a criminal defence lawyer, and a writer — though in the latter, Sibyl fights for this title, rejecting her empathetic obligations as a psychotherapist. They perform these jobs with as much conviction as Triet shows in her role as directress. Much like the commitment to make her films, Triet’s protagonists risk their morals to perfect their crafts, sacrificing their home lives to be as immoral as the male counterparts in their respective fields. 

When we do see their children, it’s not the fault of Triet’s directing that we’re given sparse details on their family lives — Triet intentionally leaves the family life in the background. Dishevelled and babbling babies, their kin appear as one-dimensional as the typical writing of female characters which audiences have become accustomed to. Laetitia, Victoria, and Sibyl return to their messy homes at erratic hours, closing the door to their bedrooms and focusing on their work. In these rare presentations of honest experiences, viewers aren’t presented with the typical ‘life behind the mom’ trope. Instead, Triet makes movies on complicated women, who just happen to have children. 

Over the past decade, Age of Panic, Victoria and Sibyl have asserted themselves as independent triumphs, contributing to a deeper understanding of Sandra Huller’s Oscar-nominated portrayal of a ‘bad mother’ figure in Anatomy of a Fall’s now-acclaimed success.

For the first time in Vancouver, these films are screening in a dedicated series, beginning on May 17. To understand the universal truths of a flawed woman’s life, watching Triet’s films is vital. Birthed in pursuit of the wide recognition she now enjoys, they assert themselves with unforgettable dominance. 

For tickets and more info on the film screenings being presented at the Cinematheque (Vancouver) visit thecinematheque.ca