Home Entertainment How France’s ‘Anatomy of a Fall’ Scored a Theatrical Release in China...

How France’s ‘Anatomy of a Fall’ Scored a Theatrical Release in China and Connected With Its Elusive Indie Audience

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Passed over by France’s Oscar-nominating committee, but finding Academy favor nevertheless, Justine Triet’s Palme d’Or-winning “Anatomy of a Fall” has also become an indie champion in mainland China. Its success may hold lessons in a market that has become increasingly impenetrable to content from outside the mainstream.

It is increasingly rare for Western arthouse films to play in Chinese commercial theaters. These are increasingly dominated by local “main melody” titles, with a little room remaining for Hollywood franchise titles and Japanese animation. Nevertheless, “Anatomy of a Fall” released in China on March 29 and has garnered $3 million (RMB22 million) to date. The film’s director, Justine Triet, even made a visit to the country to participate in Q&As at several screenings.

Below, Julien Favre, head of film at Chinese distributor Road Pictures, speaks with Variety about the long process of getting it to screen.

Where did the journey begin?

Cannes is very important for us, especially for the acquisition of non-Asian films. It is where we previously picked up “Shoplifters” and “Capernaum.” That makes it a very intense two to three months in which we are tracking all the films that could make it in competition. We usually buy before the prizes are awarded. In the case of “Anatomy,” [the deal with vendor MK2] was completed shortly after.

What made this film stand out?

Films we are interested in have to meet three criteria. First, they have to appeal to the Chinese audience. Second, they have to be able to pass censorship. And even if a film has the right topic, it must have some additional critical mass, such as festival acclaim, otherwise it can’t work for Chinese theaters. That’s why Cannes is so important. The Oscars come too late to be a decisive factor, but were a nice bonus.

The divide is growing in terms of what appeals to young theatrical audiences in China. Chinese content is getting better and the subject matter of Western films is of diminishing interest.

“Anatomy” has two interesting components. First, it is a whodunnit. These tend to do well in China of late. It is a brain teaser that is exceptionally well crafted and executed. Second, the subject of men and women living together is a hot topic in China, where people are marrying less and later, and where there are many questions about relationships and kids. We’ve noticed that many indie movies that do well in China focus on family.

Did the March release, months after other territories, diminish the film’s chances in China?

We knew that a hardcore audience would be there for this film and that they would love it. But, in China, there is no way to do a limited or platform release. You always need to find a way to cross over beyond the core audience. Chinese exhibitors will give any film a chance on day one, but it has to prove itself quickly. The market has changed since COVID.

During COVID, China’s 35-50 year-old audiences bought wide-screen TVs and no longer go to the theatre. These were the people that we considered the core audience [for indie movies]. It has had the effect of narrowing the pool of movies that can get theatrical releases. And, these days, there are very few distributors who make the effort for theatrical.

“Anatomy of a Fall” China poster

How important to the release was Triet’s visit to China?

It was crucial. We put on multiple advanced screenings, booked out a multiplex with screenings starting every 30 minutes in order that Triet could make guest appearances at each. And on stage at Peking University Centennial Memorial Hall, she established a deeper connection than she imagined. She needed bodyguards and was chased for autographs.

As a French person, when you think of China and its very different culture, and of releasing a movie like this, which is very French, you might easily think it is a bridge too far. But [Triet] found that wasn’t the case at all.

She was really surprised by how personally people took the film. Especially women … audience members would speak for 10 minutes about their own lives before asking [Triet] a question. They related to what was happening in the movie to their marital or domestic situation … to communication issues, to how women may be held back by men. And how this film takes the opposite approach, because the woman is more powerful than the man.

We thought that something like this would happen. But it happened in a manner that was way more intense than we had predicted. And to the point where this completely eclipsed the whodunit aspect.

This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.