The 21st European Film Awards in Copenhagen last Saturday night were an esteemed tribute to the brazen, bad boys of Danish cinema Dogma 95 and an affirmative recognition that Italian cinema is still very much alive and thriving. "Gomorrah," the searing, violent mafia drama that was the critics darling this year, made an offer/film the academy couldn't refuse by winning in significant categories including best picture, best director, best actor, and best screenplay.
Based on the bestseller by Robert Saviano, "Gomorrah" accurately exposed the harsh, savage world of the Neapolitan Mafia and the film won the Cannes Grand Prix Award and is the Italian nominee for Best Foreign Film Award for the 2009 Oscar race. So unflinching in its depiction of its subject matter, the screenwriters and director Matteo Garonne acknowledged that Robert Saviano couldn't be at the awards because he was in hiding.
It was an evening of royalty, international stars, and Heads of State including the Crown Prince Frederik and Princess Mary of Denmark, a beautiful, vivacious couple who ate up the red carpet, Dame Judi Dench, looking ever so regal in a black gown, Marianne Faithfull, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen and his pretty in purple wife Anne-Mette (star of the Danish version of "Dancing with the Stars"), and two time European Film Award winner Julia Jentsch.
Host Mikael Simson Bertelsen, the Danish radio and TV star, made the evening fresh and funny using American talk show style antics to lighten things up. After introducing the fabulous Danish Radio Big Band, Bertelsen, in an amusing setup, asked the band to keep their playing time short, whereby the drummer took the opportunity to do a five minute extended drum solo, leaving the stage to play drums setup in various locations all over the city in a pre-recorded film.
Wim Wenders, president of the EFA, in an un-televised portion of the show before it started, asked the question why Copenhagen was chosen this year. He said two reasons - one for the food, speaking about the legendary film Babette's Feast and of course to present the award to Dogma 95, intonating that since Lars Von Trier would not come to the EFA, the EFA would finally come to him.
Of course the highlight of the evening was the presentation of the European Achievement Award in Cinema to Dogma 95 given by Marianne Faithfull, an odd but welcome choice. Directors Soren Kragh-Jacobsen, Kristian Levring, Lars von Trier, and Thomas Vinterberg humbly accepted the award. The notoriously shy Lars von Trier was noticeably hiding in the background, purposely not making the acceptance speech. Afterwards the 10 rules, which clearly set their cinema apart from other filmmakers in 1995, were shown on a video screen.
Dame Judi Dench was given yet another award to add to her crowded shelf, the Lifetime Achievement Award. Sexy Mads Mikkelsen, Denmark's most famous actor, who stars with Dame Judi in the Bond film "Quantum of Solace," presented the award and in a sweet moment asked her to reveal her 007 secrets. Of course, she flatly refused, saying "never."
The Best European Discovery Award, the prize for a first time director, deservedly went to Steve McQueen for his astounding debut film "Hunger," about Bobby Sands, an IRA activist who died in a hunger strike in a Northern Ireland prison in 1981. In his acceptance speech, he spoke about watching Sands on television when he was eleven-years old, and the impact it made on him.
Kristen Scott Thomas won best actress for her raw performance in "I've Loved You for So Long," as a woman trying to reconnect with her family after being in prison for 15 years. Italian actor Toni Servillo, who was nominated for best actor in "Gomorrah" and "Il Divo," won for his role in "Gomorrah." Other winners included "The Secret of the Grain" for the Critics Award, "Rene" by Czech director Helena Trestikova for best documentary about a thief she followed for 20 years on film, and "Harry Potter - The Order of the Phoenix" for the People's Choice Awards.
Next year's EFA Awards will be held in Essen, Germany the European cultural capital for 2010.