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‘Anatomy of a Fall’ Scores Theatrical Release in China (Exclusive)

French legal drama Anatomy of a Fall‘s against-the-odds global box office run isn’t over just yet. The acclaimed courtroom thriller, which won the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or in 2023 and the Oscar for best original screenplay last week, has secured a nationwide theatrical release date in China on March 29.

Chinese specialty distributor Road Pictures will handle the local marketing and release of Anatomy of a Fall in partnership with the state-backed China Film Group. The film’s writer and director Justine Triet will attend a local premiere event in Beijing on March 24.

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Anatomy of a Fall is being positioned as a specialty release, but its feminist themes could align well with a recent trend of women-focused stories being a major box office force in China. Greta Gerwig’s Barbie defied early expectations last year to become a word-of-mouth hit by resonating with China’s young urban women, while actor-director Jia Ling’s recent boxing transformation drama YOLO is the country’s biggest blockbuster this year with a total of $470 million in ticket sales.

Anatomy of a Fall stars German actress Sandra Hüller — famed for her performance in 2016 Oscar-nominated Toni Erdmann, as well as Jonathan Glazer’s recent Oscar-winner Zone of Interest — as Sandra Voyter, a successful German novelist put on trial in France for the murder of her French, much-less-successful writer husband, Samuel (Samuel Theis). The only witness to the death was the couple’s 11-year-old blind son Daniel (Milo Machado-Graner). The setup would seem to point to a “did she or didn’t she?” mystery thriller, akin to Basic Instinct or HBO’s The Staircase, but Triet is less interested in a whodunit than in interrogating the legal system for its use of narrative fictions — when there are no facts, the prosecution spins fantasies about motives — and the conservative, often sexist assumptions that form the basis of those stories.

Road Pictures has ridden international art house titles to improbable success in China before. The company first caught the international film world’s attention in 2018, when it marketed and distributed Nadine Labaki’s small-budget art house drama Capernaum to a stunning $54 million total in China.

As recently as five years ago, the rights market for commercially viable European cinema was a fiercely contested sector in China. Hits were always rare, but the upside — China remains the world’s second-largest theatrical market — could be enormous. But the pandemic wiped out many of the smaller indie distributors that were once active in the space, and an increasingly inward focus among both Chinese regulators and local filmgoers has forestalled any rebound.

In recent years, Road Pictures has focused more on Japanese anime. The company generated two hits in 2023: Mokoto Shinkai’s Suzume ($110 million in China) and Toei Animation’s The First Slam Dunk ($90 million).

Road’s bet on Anatomy of a Fall will provide an interesting test of China’s current market for European prestige cinema.

Produced by French companies Les Films Pelléas and Les Films de Pierre, Anatomy of a Fall was made for just 6.2 million euros (about $6.7 million), but it has been well received virtually everywhere, earning $33.7 million globally, including about $5 million in North American cinemas.

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