The 35th European Film Awards took place amid the uncanny beauty of Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik. While it was possible to take a boat from the marina to gaze up at the aurora borealis dancing across the sky, the northern light on Saturday, December 10 came from Sweden and was named Ruben Östlund. The EFAs have a habit of decorating the same film across all major categories, so when his broad eat-the-rich satire “Triangle of Sadness” picked up an early award for Best European Director, it was clear which way the weather was going.
Östlund barely flinched when his name was announced as the winner in this early category — perhaps two Palme d’Ors in five years does that to a man. He first thanked the actress Sunnyi Melles (who was present) for her “great vomiting performance” and then had the grace to pay respects to Charlbi Dean, the South African breakout star who died suddenly in August from a lung infection, aged only 32. “Concentrate on her performance,” he instructed the audience members sitting in the Harpa Concert Hall.
Broad comedy with sudden waves of mortal sadness is a fair summary of a ceremony where the awards were spaced out between zany skits and smooth live music. The zany skits landed with varying degrees of success. The hosts did fine work when they introduced a joke category of “Best Loser” acting in clips for confected films with titles like “Oy Wanker” (a British version of “Macbeth” with a script comprised only of two words “oy” and “wanker”) and a drama about a man whose mother turns into a strudel. Only in this “anything goes” environment could Spanish actor Carlos Areces dress to match the award he was presenting Best Short by wearing — yep — shorts, knee socks and sliders. The temperature in Reykjavik on the day averaged 23 Fahrenheit. This is heroic commitment to a bit.
Embodying both comedy and sadness was Palestinian director Elia Suleiman, given a special award for achievement in world cinema. Mike Downey, chair of the European Film Academy, saluted Suleiman’s capacity to use comedy rather than flag-waving to make political points and referenced the director’s “small but perfectly formed oeuvre” most recently, “It Must Be Heaven” (2019). The director’s speech was characteristically delightful and deadpan. Visibly moved, he confessed that he didn’t know what to say as he likes being sincere and dislikes being mundane. His films, he said, have to be sincere. “That’s why it takes me seven to eight years to make a film because the rest of the time I’m not that sincere. I love staring at nothing, smoking, drinking, and pretending that I’m thinking.”
Iceland is leading the way in sustainability thanks to the geothermal energy flowing beneath its frozen surface, so it was fitting that social consciousness formed an offbeat motif of the ceremony. A trio of young Europeans: Raluca from Romania, Ahmad from Sweden, and Vilhjálmur from Iceland presented a Sustainability Award to the European Green Deal, represented by Ursula von der Leyen. Part of the prize was an Icelandic birch planted in a forest near Reykjavik. (Since the 1950s, the country has made an effort to introduce trees into its previously treeless landscape.) The Eurimages co-production award was given to all Ukrainian producers, represented by Julia Sinkevych and Darya Bassel, out of recognition for their fortitude in continuing the work of cultural activity and preservation during wartime. A chilling moment came when the daughter of Mantas Kvedaravicius collected the documentary award for “Mariupolis 2” on behalf of her father. He couldn’t be there, as he was killed while delivering medical supplies in Ukraine.
An in memoriam section proved haunting, too, thanks to two live musicians creating the atmosphere for an elegy while familiar (and less familiar) faces flashed onscreen. This year we lost Irene Papas, Gaspard Ulliel, Robbie Coltrane, Lena Wertmuller, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Monica Vitti, Jean-Luc Godard, and – the youngest of them all – Charlbi Dean.
For all these diverting asides, the headline was writing itself with the slow inevitability of a leaking yacht sinking to the bottom of the ocean. To no one’s surprise, “Triangle of Sadness” picked up the Best Screenwriting Award. But when Best Actor went to Zlatko Burić, whose role is more supporting than leading, ripples of discontent spread across the press room where some were rooting for Eden Dambrine, the teenage star of Lukas Dhont’s “Close.” Dambrine had won hearts and minds by showing up at the ceremony in a shimmering disco ball of a jacket and telling the story of how Dhont spotted him on a train. The Best Film Award was the last of the night, — however, it was, at this point, a formality to wait for Triangle of Sadness to take its place in the history books.
Along the way, there was a best actress win for Vicky Krieps in “Corsage.” Beamed in by video link, clad in what looked suspiciously like pajamas, Krieps seemed genuinely shocked. In an off-the-cuff speech, she said, “I want to dedicate this to all the women that need to be seen and heard, that need to free themselves and heal from these deep, deep wounds that we carried for generations, and that we need to heal in order that men and women can come together again.” Earlier in the night, Italian director Laura Samani won the discovery award for her heartbreaking debut, “Small Body,” about a woman who goes on a pilgrimage to save the soul of her dead baby.
One man who does not need discovering is Ruben Östlund. The anticlimactic climax of the Best Film Award meant that “Triangle of Sadness” won in every category in which it was nominated, bringing its tally for the night to four: director, screenplay, actor, and film. “The Square” won five awards at the EFAs in 2017. The times change, the locations change, the ceremonies change, yet also Östlund remains.