Sandra Hüller: Winning hearts and praises, one unconventional role at a time

She has been hailed as one of the most versatile and fearless actors in Europe


German actor Sandra Hüller had been the focus of much media attention during the 76th Cannes film festival, and rightfully so. The 45-year-old actor, who played notable roles in two of the top films of the festival, left the audience in awe with her versatility and acting prowess.

Anatomy of a Fall, with Hüller in the lead, bagged the Palme d’Or. Another film, starring Hüller, The Zone of Interest, won Grand Prix at the festival. Directed by Jonathan Glazer, The Zone of Interest, a chilling drama about a family behind the Auschwitz concentration camps, saw her play Hedwig Hösses, the wife of the commander of the camps.

Born on April 30, 1978, in Suhl in East Germany, Hüller made her on-screen debut with a short film Nicht auf den Mund (Not on The Lips) in 1999. She studied theatre from 1998 to 2000 at the Ernst Dusch Academy of Dramatic Arts, Berlin.

Best known for her roles in the 2006 Hans-Christian Schmid-directed German drama film Requiem and, and 2016 Maren Ade-directed comedy-drama Toni Erdmann, Hüller possesses the ability to morph into characters and come up with gripping performances. Hailed as one of the most versatile and fearless actors in Europe, Hüller has been praised for the hours of spellbinding work she puts in. 

Hüller recently told LA Times that while she doesn't shy away from challenging projects, she took her time to decide on playing the “unambiguously monstrous” Hedwig Hösses in The Zone of Interest. She said she decided to accept the role to work with Glazier. 

The actor said she portrayed the role to show how just because people like Hösses existed, that does not mean that they deserve respect, love, or have to be liked. She played the complex woman with a flawless porcelain facade that she carries with pride while rarely showing remorse about the atrocities that she was a part of.

Anatomy of a Fall is a courtroom drama, in which she played a seemingly cold writer accused of murdering her husband. Hüller’s character demands sympathy but her unsettling ability to lie makes one unsure if she is actually trustworthy. 

Hüller has always been fascinated about testing her limits. Her 2013 movie Finsterworld, directed by Frauke Finsterwalder, has been described as an “intensely funny yet subtly terrifying film.” The film portrayed post-war Germany, blanketed by the shadows of its past, and a young generation that seems to have resigned to its seemingly bleak future. Another one of her films, Fly (2009) directed by Piotr J. Lewandowski, explored the relationship between a soon-to-be-deported criminal and a young student who makes a documentary about him.

Instead of playing safer, black-and-white roles, Hüller has always been experimenting with her characters. She may not have won an award at Cannes, but the impact she created with her roles and the attention she managed to garner were indeed greater than any award.