A Top Oscar Nominee, Uneasy in the Spotlight

After Sandra Hüller learned that two movies she stars in — “Anatomy of a Fall” and “The Zone of Interest” — had been selected for the competition at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, she was a little apprehensive about what it might mean for her anonymity. The German actress has always had a prickly relationship with fame: Aside from her role in the bittersweet 2016 feature “Toni Erdmann,” she has mainly kept a low profile, working in German theater.

But what happened next outstripped even her boldest expectations. “Anatomy of a Fall,” a French drama in which Hüller plays a woman accused of murdering her husband, went on to win the Palme d’Or, the festival’s top honor, and “The Zone of Interest,” a Holocaust film, took the Grand Prix, or runner-up prize. The Los Angeles Times crowned her the “queen of Cannes,” and, in a few weeks, she will travel from her home in Leipzig, Germany, to Hollywood for the Oscars, where she is nominated for best actress, for “Anatomy.”

This attention has been challenging for Hüller — at times overwhelmingly so — and now she is grappling with what the nomination, and its accompanying scrutiny, means for her and her career. “It means being accepted into a circle of people I wasn’t in before,” she said, in a recent interview in Leipzig. “But I don’t know if it means success, or it will make anything easier.”

Sitting in a cafe with her black Weimaraner lying under the table, she was warm but a little guarded as she spoke about her newfound global fame. “I like my life. I like my apartment. I like my everyday routine. There’s no lack of anything that I had to fill. I wasn’t waiting for this to happen,” said Hüller, 45. “But it means that people now believe I can do things that perhaps they didn’t believe I could do before.”

Justine Triet, the director of “Anatomy of a Fall,” and Hüller during filming.Credit…Neon, via Associated Press
She is nominated for an Oscar for best actress for her performance in the film.Credit…Neon, via Associated Press

It was also surprising, she noted, because “Anatomy of a Fall” is not a typical Oscars movie. An ambiguous exploration of language, gender dynamics and toxic relationships, it centers on the question of whether Hüller’s character, a German writer also named Sandra, pushed her husband out a window to his death. The movie culminates in a series of courtroom scenes in which a judge — and the audience — must weigh her potential guilt.

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