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If you love courtroom dramas, this Oscar-nominated film is not to be missed

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If you love courtroom dramas, this Oscar-nominated film is not to be missed

Anatomy of a Fall may feel familiar at first but it immerses audiences in a different kind of legal thriller. Above, Sandra Hüller plays a writer accused of murdering her husband.

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Anatomy of a Fall may feel familiar at first but it immerses audiences in a different kind of legal thriller. Above, Sandra Hüller plays a writer accused of murdering her husband.

Les Films Pelléas

The Oscars love a courtroom drama, and part of the appeal of a traditional courtroom drama has always been the restoration of order. There is an open question, there is an investigation, there is a confrontation, and there is a climactic moment when something is revealed and settles the matter. Even where the system fails, the storytelling succeeds in getting to that resolution. The innocent may be convicted or the guilty set free, but the storyteller gets to the bottom of things, and in that sense, there is order again.

Plenty of Best Picture nominees have fallen into this category: Witness for the Prosecution, The Verdict, A Few Good Men. This year’s courtroom drama, Anatomy of a Fall, looks at this question in a different way.

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Beyond the fact that it’s set in France and in the French justice system, the film is ultimately much less clear than these other examples about the answers to the central questions it seems to be asking. Because there is no huge revelation that makes everything snap into place, you could read it as a story of frustration or of stubbornly persistent chaos. But in its way, it, too, is about the disruption of order and its restoration. And that starts with the “P.I.M.P” cover.

Enter 50 Cent

At the beginning of the film from writer and director Justine Triet, Sandra Voyter (Sandra Hüller) is in her home on a snowy mountain, being interviewed about her writing by a young woman named Zoe. Their discussion is friendly, even flirty. Her kind-hearted son, Daniel, is upstairs bathing his dog. Suddenly, the women are interrupted by a steel drum cover of 50 Cent’s “P.I.M.P.” that rattles the walls. Sandra explains that her husband, Samuel, is working upstairs and listening to music, and they try to keep talking. The song finally stops, but then, after a transparently peevish pause, it just starts over, louder. The music continues until the interview cannot go on. Chaos has won. Sandra chuckles and admits defeat, and Zoe leaves. Daniel goes for a walk.

Soon after, Daniel finds Samuel dead on the ground outside the house. Somehow, he has fallen from a height, and his bright red blood on the snow is itself a discombobulating image. Now, chaos has really won.

“We have to live with the monsters we create,” Justine Triet told NPR’s Scott Simon, when he asked whether characters linger with her after a film. “I’ve been living with these people for three years, and I think I’ll probably live with them for at least another year.”

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“We have to live with the monsters we create,” Justine Triet told NPR’s Scott Simon, when he asked whether characters linger with her after a film. “I’ve been living with these people for three years, and I think I’ll probably live with them for at least another year.”

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The rest of the film is spurred by the investigation of how Samuel died. Despite a lack of direct evidence, Sandra is charged with killing him because she was the only person there. As a result, much of her trial is consumed by questions about her marriage. Was it bad enough that she threw her husband out the window, or pushed him off the balcony? Was it bad enough that he jumped? Did he, in fact, just fall?

The anatomy of a courtroom

Triet’s version of a courtroom drama looks different — at least to an American audience familiar with, say, Law & Order — in part because the physical courtroom itself is much more multidimensional and more complex in its use of space.

In most American takes on this genre, you get a courtroom that is laid out in what we might think of as a church formation. The gallery, sitting on benches, faces the judge, who sits on their elevated platform. When a witness testifies, they sit beside the judge, facing the gallery, while they speak. The jury sits perpendicular to both judge and gallery, visually aligned with neither. The attorneys wait with the audience, watching, until it’s time to “go on.” It’s quite flat, with communication running in two directions at most.

American audiences will find the layout of the French courtroom differs from what they are used to seeing in on-screen legal dramas.

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American audiences will find the layout of the French courtroom differs from what they are used to seeing in on-screen legal dramas.

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The layout in Anatomy of a Fall is very different. The courtroom has a square formation. Think of the bench as north and the gallery as south; these still face each other. The defense is arranged along the east side and the prosecution along the west. Jurors are up on the bench with the judges. The advocate general (basically the prosecutor) has an elevated box from which he can descend, and Sandra sits just behind and above her lawyers. When a witness testifies, they stand behind a waist-high barrier facing the judge and jurors, rather than sitting in a box by the judge.

The Anatomy courtroom can be disorienting at first; it’s initially not easy to know where Sandra is exactly, or where she’s looking. Sometimes you can’t tell quite where the hard-nosed (and red-robed) advocate general comes from when he questions her. The process is surprisingly freewheeling — the attorneys freely argue back and forth with each other, and the advocate general asks Sandra questions during testimony from others.

Antoine Reinartz as advocate general in Anatomy of a Fall.

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Antoine Reinartz as advocate general in Anatomy of a Fall.

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The square formation and elevated seating allow for a wide variety of camera angles, and Triet doesn’t offer an establishing shot at the outset to explain the space to the audience.

Instead, the very first time we see the courtroom, we have a bad seat in the gallery, back in a corner where our view is obstructed. Zoe, the woman who conducted the interview in the opening scene, is in the middle of her testimony, and the court is hearing the tape she made of her interview with Sandra. Specifically, the first time we find ourselves in the courtroom, everyone there is listening to the “P.I.M.P.” cover. The shots keep switching their angles and techniques: a steady push in on Sandra, then a wider static shot of just the bench, then a medium shot of Zoe that begins to push in on her, too — but in a shot that’s conspicuously handheld and much shakier. There are big parts of the courtroom at this point, the courtroom that will be the setting of much of the rest of the film, that we haven’t even seen. It’s very (intentionally) disorganized from a sensory perspective.

The son who settles the story

Eleven-year-old Daniel didn’t witness his father’s death yet his arrival brings clarity — if not order — to the courtroom.

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Eleven-year-old Daniel didn’t witness his father’s death yet his arrival brings clarity — if not order — to the courtroom.

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The first long look at the courtroom comes a bit later when 11-year-old Daniel arrives to testify. The scene begins with the camera seemingly nestled against a high ceiling, in the center rear of the room. It looks down, putting the whole courtroom in the frame at once. This shot is neutral, normal, explanatory. The camera holds here for fully 30 seconds, which is an eternity in movie time, and especially in courtroom drama time. The arrival of this very long, very wide shot is jarring, and it changes the tone. It calms the restless camera. It calms the jitters of not fully understanding the space we’re looking at.

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In this sense, Daniel’s arrival starts to create order. A couple of minutes later, as he’s being questioned about inconsistencies in his memory, he looks back and forth between the advocate general and Sandra’s defense attorney, who are standing on both sides of him and arguing about his testimony. For almost a minute and a half, Triet stays with an unbroken shot of his face. The camera just swings from side to side as he looks from one of these men to the other and back, so that he is always facing the lens. Even when he looks over at his mother, we don’t cut to her, as would be the traditional move. Instead, we remain with Daniel.

Two different kinds of order from chaos

So if we know that Daniel’s arrival in the courtroom brings order to the form of the film, it makes sense that he’s a source of order in the story. But how can that be? Even he doesn’t actually know what happened to his father; he was out walking the dog. If order comes from getting the facts, it seems impossible that he can be the answer to the messiness of the drama playing out in front of him.

Furthermore, it’s no spoiler to say that it’s not at all clear that Daniel is telling all of the literal truth about what he saw and heard. He is protecting his mother. So again, it might seem unlikely that he can provide any answers.

I think the solution to this tension is simply that Anatomy of a Fall is about a different kind of order. It’s not order that comes from certainty, but from clarity. Nobody here seems to have certainty about what happened — even Sandra might or might not, depending on what you believe about her. But what Daniel manages to achieve by the end of the film is clarity. He knows what he wants to do, he knows what he thinks is right to do, and he knows what he thinks should happen. And he can articulate all those things to people who are hesitant to listen to him. (There is, I suppose, some irony that might be inferred from the fact that Daniel is visually impaired, but I don’t think Triet is going for anything quite so on-the-nose.)

Even when Daniel is not being fully truthful, he is the one entirely trustworthy person in the story. Whatever he is doing, he is doing out of love alone, while his parents both acted at times out of love, but also out of anger and jealousy, resentment and selfishness. Again, he has clarity — in this case, clarity of motive.

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So while this might seem like an unconventional courtroom drama Oscar nominee, it shares that theme of a courtroom as a step on the way to restoring order, even if it’s only the order of knowing what you think is right.

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Conductor Andrew Davis, who headed orchestras on 3 continents, dies at 80

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Conductor Andrew Davis, who headed orchestras on 3 continents, dies at 80

Conductor Andrew Davis, right, raises his arms as he takes a bow, accompanied by Renee Fleming, and Peter Rose, center, during the final dress rehearsal of Richard Strauss’s Capriccio in the Metropolitan Opera at New York’s Lincoln Center, March 25, 2011.

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Conductor Andrew Davis, right, raises his arms as he takes a bow, accompanied by Renee Fleming, and Peter Rose, center, during the final dress rehearsal of Richard Strauss’s Capriccio in the Metropolitan Opera at New York’s Lincoln Center, March 25, 2011.

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Andrew Davis, an acclaimed British conductor who was music director of the Lyric Opera of Chicago and orchestras on three continents, has died. He was 80.

Davis died Saturday at Rusk Institute in Chicago from leukemia, his manager, Jonathan Brill of Opus 3 Artists, said Sunday.

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Davis had been managing the disease for between 1 1/2 and 2 years, but it became acute shortly after his 80th birthday on Feb. 2. He had conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra last December in the U.S. premiere of his own orchestration of Handel’s “Messiah.”

“A consummate musician, incredibly versatile and a phenomenal colleague, as well,” soprano Renée Fleming said in an email to The Associated Press. “It takes a special kind of command to be a great conductor, the power to make close to a hundred musicians (each one, at heart, a diva or divo) hang on your tiniest gesture. So it is remarkable that even with that strength, Andrew’s primary quality was his innate happiness. He was gifted with an infectious joy that somehow came through in every bar of music he made.”

As his 80th birthday approached, Davis was invigorated by the challenge of molding an orchestra, especially young players.

“Harnessing all that energy and that enthusiasm and that passion, and galvanizing it into a totally, totally unified conception and not just conception but — what’s the word? — realization,” he said during an interview with the AP last July after rehearsing the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America in workshops and then at New York’s Carnegie Hall. “I berate them more than I would, but I hope always with a twinkle in my eye.”

Davis was music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra from 1975-88 and Britain’s Glyndebourne Festival from 1988-2000; chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra from 1989-2000 and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra from 2013-19; then music director of the Lyric Opera from 2000-21.

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Davis made his Lyric Opera debut in 1987 and led about 700 performances of 62 operas by 22 composers.

“He was a true artistic partner to me and a shining light for so many of us,” Lyric Opera general director Anthony Freud said in a statement. “We will miss his incredible artistry, his extraordinary wisdom, his irrepressible humor, his unfettered zest for life and his devotion to the arts and the humanities.”

Davis conducted a dozen Last Night of the Proms concerts, an annual celebration of Britain at London’s Royal Albert Hall. He twice gave the customary speech in the patter of the Major General’s song from Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance.”

Born in Ashridge, in the Hertfordshire county of England, Andrew Frank Davis played organ for his parish choir and joined the choir at the Watford Grammar School for Boys. He studied piano at London’s Royal Academy of Music in London, became an organ student at King’s College Cambridge, and played piano, harpsichord and organ with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields from 1966-70.

He made his conducting debut with the BBC Symphony in 1970, became an assistant conductor with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Philharmonia Orchestra, then in 1971 made his North American debut with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

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“One of the finest conductors of his generation,” Carnegie Hall executive and artistic director Clive Gillinson said. “I worked with him on an ongoing basis at the London Symphony Orchestra, and the players and I were always totally engaged by his superb musicianship.”

Davis made his opera-conducting debut in Strauss’ “Capriccio” at the Glyndebourne in 1973 and the following year met his future wife, soprano Gianna Rolandi, when she sang Zerbinetta in performances of Strauss’ “Ariadne auf Naxos” that he led at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. They got married in 1989 and had a son, composer Edward Frazier Davis.

Davis became a Commander of the British Empire in 1992 and a Knight Bachelor in 1999. The family moved to Chicago when he was hired by the Lyric Opera.

During the pandemic, Davis translated Virgil’s “Aeneid” from Latin into English verse.

“I took an entrance exam in classics in New College, Oxford,” he told NPR, “but then a couple of weeks later I took the organ scholarship trials at King’s College, Cambridge, which much to my surprise I won, so that was the end of classics for me.”

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His wife died in 2021. In addition to his son, he is survived by a sister, Jill Atkins, and brothers Martin Davis and Tim Davis. Funeral services will be private.

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Classic film lovers: See James Dean's apartment and more on new TCM tour at Warner Bros.

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Classic film lovers: See James Dean's apartment and more on new TCM tour at Warner Bros.

In 2021, the Warner Bros. Studio Tour created new interactive exhibits focused on the company’s recent history, unveiling areas dedicated to the DC Comics universe and the “Harry Potter” franchise.

This week, the popular Studio Tour in Burbank is doubling down on its more distant past.

Warner Bros. is now offering a Turner Classic Movies-branded version of its studio tour that will bring guests to previously off-limit areas of the lot, including vintage animation buildings, a mini rose garden and an apartment that once housed James Dean. The 90-minute tram portion of the jaunt — about 30 minutes longer than the studio’s standard tram excursion — will allow guides to go deeper into the history of the studio’s catalog to deliver factoids related to such films as “Casablanca,” “My Fair Lady,” “Rebel Without a Cause,” “Auntie Mame” and many more.

“We’re off the leash,” says Brad Taylor, a 15-year tour guide veteran with Warner Bros., noting that the TCM excursion will include time for guides to chat with visitors about their favorite films.

The Warner Bros. Studio Tour will now offer a TCM-branded trek to focus on classic films. TCM hosts — from left, Eddie Muller, Jacqueline Stewart, Ben Mankiewicz, Alicia Malone and Dave Karger — recorded segments for the outing.

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(The Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood)

“We get to talk to the guests and really hang out with people who have the same passion that we do,” Taylor says. “I find that ‘classics’ guests are less about behind-the-scenes and more, ‘I can’t believe this is where we are.’ It’s just the look on their faces when they realize ‘Casablanca’ filmed here, or James Dean stood right here.”

The launch of the TCM tour arrives during the network’s 30th anniversary and close to 12 months after classic film fans were given a scare. In June, Warner Bros. announced that layoffs would hit TCM, including some of the network’s top executives, prompting concern from prestige directors such as Steven Spielberg, Paul Thomas Anderson and Martin Scorsese. After garnering national attention, key cuts were reversed and Warner Bros. sought to assure fans that TCM would continue to be handled with care.

TCM network hosts — Eddie Muller, Jacqueline Stewart, Ben Mankiewicz, Alicia Malone and Dave Karger — recorded new video segments for the outing. The tour will take guests into the lot’s Property House, an area not visited by the standard tour. Here, visitors can get glimpses of materials for a full set, including items for a complete Oval Office setting, but expect guides to highlight vintage items, such as a throne from the Errol Flynn pirate film “Captain Blood.”

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Danny Kahn, vice president-general manager of the studio tour, says there have been numerous requests over the years from guests to delve a little deeper into the studio’s animation history. That’s why the TCM tour will for the first time take visitors to an area of the lot once known as “Termite Terrace,” which from 1955 to 1964, says Taylor, housed the animation department, a building with a sloped roof designed to capture sunlight. Animation legend Chuck Jones, says Kahn, had an office in the Termite Terrace area in the 1990s despite Warner’s moving animation production elsewhere.

Another unique tour locale is the exterior of the Dean apartment. When Dean resided there during filming of “East of Eden,” it was actually across the street from the lot, the apartment nesting above a pharmacy. But gradual studio expansion has led to the area now being on Warner Bros. property.

“That was an actual drugstore with apartments, and the studio rented it for him,” Kahn says. “I think it was to keep an eye on him and keep him on a short leash.”

The tour will also give tram riders a look at executive life at the studio, allowing them to briefly walk around a rose garden. The manicured spaces once held a tennis court as well as offices and personal screening rooms for the likes of studio mogul Jack Warner, with many of the structures dating to the 1920s. “It’s a really historic area of the lot that hasn’t really changed a lot in all these years,” says Kahn, noting the area is still in use by studio principals. “Jack Warner, when he ran the studio, privatized the first floor. That was a massage parlor that he had beneath his office.”

Staples of the tour, such as a journey around the backlot city streets, a visit to the “Friends” set and cafe and recent additions highlighting the studio’s modern franchise films are included in the TCM trek, as is a pre-tour reception with beverages and pastries. All told, expect the tour to last about 3½ hours. A tour spokesperson says the first TCM-branded outing is scheduled for Wednesday, with trams expected to depart daily after that date. Adult tickets are $95, but there is a Southern California resident discount available for $75.

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“It feels so good to have TCM here,” Kahn says. “People understand that the TCM brand is synonymous with classic film.”

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USC cancels filmmaker's keynote amid controversy over canceled valedictorian speech

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USC cancels filmmaker's keynote amid controversy over canceled valedictorian speech

Students carrying signs on April 18, 2024 on the campus of USC protest a canceled commencement speech by its 2024 valedictorian who has publicly supported Palestinians.

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Students carrying signs on April 18, 2024 on the campus of USC protest a canceled commencement speech by its 2024 valedictorian who has publicly supported Palestinians.

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LOS ANGELES — The University of Southern California further shook up its commencement plans Friday, announcing the cancellation of a keynote speech by filmmaker Jon M. Chu just days after making the controversial choice to disallow the student valedictorian from speaking.

The private university in Los Angeles on Monday said it was canceling valedictorian Asna Tabassum’s speech at the May 10 ceremony because of safety concerns. Tabassum, who is Muslim, has expressed support for Palestinians in the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, and university officials said the response to her selection as valedictorian had “taken on an alarming tenor.” They did not cite any specific threats.

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The university’s decision was met with praise from pro-Israel organizations but condemnation from free speech groups and the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Students and faculty marched across campus Thursday in silent protest of the university’s decision.

Now, university officials say they are “redesigning” the entire commencement program.

“Given the highly publicized circumstances surrounding our main-stage commencement program, university leadership has decided it is best to release our outside speakers and honorees from attending this year’s ceremony,” the university said in an unsigned statement posted Friday. “We’ve been talking to this exceptional group and hope to confer these honorary degrees at a future commencement or other academic ceremonies.”

Chu was slated to deliver the keynote address at the May 10 ceremony. He is a 2003 graduate of the university who has since directed films like “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Wicked,” an adaptation for the Broadway musical set for release last this year.

More than 65,000 people are expected to gather on campus for commencement, including 19,000 graduates.

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“Although this should have been a time of celebration for my family, friends, professors, and classmates, anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian voices have subjected me to a campaign of racist hatred because of my uncompromising belief in human rights for all,” Tabassum said in a statement earlier this week.

The Israel-Hamas war has presented a challenge for colleges under pressure to preserve free speech and open debate, and campuses are expected to be further tested as commencement speeches get underway in the coming weeks.

At Columbia University on Thursday, New York police removed a pro-Palestinian protest encampment and arrested more than 100 demonstrators. Most of them were charged with trespassing at the Ivy League-institution.

Several students involved in the protest said they also were suspended from Columbia and nearby Barnard College. The school said it was still identifying students involved in the protest and added more suspensions would be forthcoming.

“Students have a right to free speech but do not have a right to violate university policies and disrupt learning on campus,” said New York Mayor Eric Adams, who said the city was asked by university officials to remove the encampment.

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