Pride was the theme of the evening on the occasion of 20th anniversary of the European Film Awards, and fittingly so. The awards, first presented with a small group of founding members in 1988 -- with Pedro Almodovar's "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" winning best picture == has now grown into one of the most prestigious film awards in the world. The European film community, maybe losing a little of it's identity with the euro zone, is still a strong symbol of creative filmmaking, with films emerging from sometimes unexpected places along with a continued strong proliferation of work from France, England, and Germany.
Saturday evening's festivities in Berlin, held in a massive warehouse/airplane hangar-like structure in the middle of nowhere, had the feel and informality of the annual Spirit Awards or the Golden Globes, with rows of banquet tables and champagne, instead of auditorium seating. There was the usual red carpet hoopla, with hungry photographers shouting down stars like Marion Cottilard, Wim Wenders, Jeanne Moreau, Emmanuelle Beart, and Jan Josef Linders for just a few more photo ops.
At about 8:15PM the awards began, with a host of film and political figures, including Klaus Wowereit the mayor of Berlin, making a long list of repetitive speeches commending the 20th anniversary, milking the milestone a tad too long. Then the fun began with the ever-gorgeous Beart, stunning in a grey sequin & chiffon gown and the handsome, effervescent Linders, who were the perfect glamour couple to host the evening.
The orchestra, as they say, was the band The Leningrad Cowboys, and with their 80's punk extreme hairdos and outfits, were the ideal musical backdrop for the "serious" awards. Their punk/rock style, doing covers of popular music including Tom Jones and the James Bond theme, worked well to lighten the evening.
Directors were heavily celebrated and prized with special awards going to Jean Luc Godard, who was honored with a lifetime achievement award (but was not on hand), and Alain Resnais receiving the critic's choice award for his film "Couers." Tributes were made to Antonioni, Bergman, and the oldest living film director, who is still working, 99 old year Manuel de Oliveira.
Liv Ullman's speech about Bergman was not just a run of the mill tribute speech. We learned that Bergman very much supported and encouraged young filmmakers and Ullman told a story about how Bergman met Antonioni, only once, in Italy in the 1960's. In a special moment, 10 important film figures were given a rare, intimate gift, a stone from Bergman's longtime country home. Recipient's included Jeanne Moreau, Lord David Putnam, and David Rose.
In one of the few humorous moments of the awards, Jan Josef Linders, tried to infuse the evening with some comic relief. He went around to the tables asking actors to say things in their native language. Asking Liv Ullman to say a phrase in Swedish, she sassily replied, "I don't know how to say that in Swedish- I'm Norwegian.
There is always one controversial/ unexpected moment in every award show and true to form, bad boy cinematographer Christopher Doyle filled the spot magnificently. Presenting the lifetime achievement award to cinematographer, Michael Balhaus, Doyle, dressed in an insane outfit of plaid shirttails hanging down from his jacket and pants tucked into his workman boots, was clearly loaded and forgot his pre-written speech. He rambled on, concluding with a classic phrase, that will surely be talked about for days, calling Balhaus a "wonderful fucking whore of cinema". German born Balhaus accepted the award graciously and was touched that the European community was giving him the award, considering he had worked in the U. S. over the past 30 years. A pre-recorded clip of Martin Scorsese praising Balhaus's remarkable talent and deep friendship and stating that Balhaus returned him to his love of cinema, was moving.
The awards capped a celebratory weekend including a happy 20th birthday concert, "The Music of the Image," on Friday night in Berlin. Top film composers Georges Delerue, David Arnold, and Jean-Claude Petit were honored and the Flemish Radio Orchestra played music from "Jean de Florette," "2046," "Casino Royale," and "Life is Beautiful." "Europe on the Move: Migration in the Movies," was the title of a 3 part, 4 hour panel & conference on Saturday afternoon.
There were a few surprises at the European Film Awards, especially in the best actor & best actress categories. The Academy went British, instead of French, in choosing Helen Mirren over Marion Cotillard, in the heavily competitive best actress slot. Virtually unknown Israeli Sasson Gabai won best actor for "The Bands Visit," and the film also won the prize for best discovery.
Jeanne Moreau, still a lovely vision dressed in a white sheath gown, presented the best film award. Cleverly cashing in on Christopher Doyle's moment, she repeated his phrase, "wonderful fucking whores of cinema", in reference to the filmmakers nominated.
The top prize was awarded to the widely praised Romanian film "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," winner of the Palme d'Or at Cannes earlier this year. "I'm very honored by the award," Mungiu (also winner of the directing award) said, accepting his award, and calling for continuing support for the diversity of production for independent cinema in Europe.
COMPLETE LIST OF WINNERS:
EUROPEAN FILM 2007
"4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days", Romania
directed by Cristian Mungiu
produced by Mobra Film SRL
EUROPEAN DIRECTOR 2007
Cristian Mungiu for "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days"
EUROPEAN ACTOR 2007
Sasson Gabai in "The Band's Visit"
EUROPEAN ACTRESS 2007
Helen Mirren in "The Queen"
EUROPEAN SCREENWRITER 2007
Fatih Akin for "The Edge of Heaven"
EUROPEAN CINEMATOGRAPHER 2007
Frank Griebe for "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer"
EUROPEAN FILM ACADEMY PRIX DEXCELLENCE 2007
Uli Hanisch for Production Design, "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer"
EUROPEAN COMPOSER 2007
Alexandre Desplat for "The Queen"
EUROPEAN DISCOVERY 2007
"The Band's Visit" by Eran Kolirin, Israel
EUROPEAN FILM ACADEMY DOCUMENTARY 2007 - Prix ARTE
"Paper cannot Wrap up Embers" by Rithy Panh, France
EUROPEAN FILM ACADEMY SHORT FILM 2007 - Prix UIP
"Alumbramiento" by Eduardo Chapero-Jackson, Spain
THE PEOPLE'S CHOICE AWARD 2007
"La Sconosciuta" by Giuseppe Tornatore
EUROPEAN FILM ACADEMY CRITICS AWARD 2007 - Prix FIPRESCI
"Coeurs" by Alain Resnais
EUROPEAN FILM ACADEMY LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
EUROPEAN ACHIEVEMENT IN WORLD CINEMA 2007 - Prix Screen International
Margaret Menegoz and Dr. Veit Heiduschka
on the occasion of the 20th European Film Awards
Manoel de Oliveira