European Film Awards 2013: Poor but Decadent

Article published on Dec. 10, 2013
Article published on Dec. 10, 2013

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

We're poor, but God for­bid sexy. ‪At the cer­e­mony of the 26th Eu­ro­pean Film Awards, film­mak­ers rise with lashes on cul­tural pol­i­tics, as­ser­tions of their Eu­ro­pean iden­tity and hymns to Cather­ine Deneuve. Hon­ored in par­tic­u­lar are the old mas­ters who in­dulge in deca­dence. ‪But what about the younger gen­er­a­tion?

Given the proper dose of glit­ter and the abun­dance of il­lus­tri­ous guests on the red car­pet at the cer­e­mony of the 26th Eu­ro­pean Film Awards in Berlin, one could assume that things weren't all that bad for Eu­ro­pean cin­ema, de­spite po­lit­i­cal and fi­nan­cial crises. But this il­lu­sion arises as quickly as Marion Döring, di­rec­tor of the Eu­ro­pean Film Acad­emy (EFA) which bestows the cov­eted Eu­ro­pean Film Awards on their lucky winners, de­mol­ishes it: "It's often said that Berlin is poor, but sexy. Un­for­tu­nately for the Eu­ro­pean Film Acad­emy only the for­mer ap­plies. It's only poor." ‪That is why the lo­ca­tion is so small, the scope of the Acad­emy lim­ited, and Eu­ro­pean film in gen­eral is left empty-handed. ‪What could eas­ily be dis­missed as a wry in­tro­duc­tion drags on through­out the evening, dur­ing which a total of 21 prizes are awarded to film­mak­ers from all over Eu­rope and Is­rael.

Pedro Almodóvar, who is hon­ored for his achievements in Eu­ro­pean cinema on the world stage, took the op­por­tu­nity to dis­credit the cat­a­strophic eco­nomic and cul­tural-po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion back in his home coun­try. De­spite the po­lit­i­cal and so­cial cri­sis and a gov­ern­ment that's "deaf and in­sen­si­tive" to all of Spain's prob­lems, Span­ish film­mak­ers are still able to suc­cess­fully make good films. ‪Almodóvar es­pe­cially ded­i­cated his award to the younger gen­er­a­tion of Span­ish di­rec­tors. Where they are, how­ever, re­mains un­clear. ‪Un­for­tu­nately, it's part of the cus­tom that for the most part Old Mas­ters and es­tab­lished names get nom­i­nated for the major cat­e­gories such as "Best Film," "Best Di­rec­tor" and "Best Screen­play." ‪Younger crews are usu­ally just left with minor awards like "Best Short Film" or "Best New­comer."

It seems some­what askew that— after ex­press­ing the will for less pre­dictabil­ity, and nom­i­nat­ing a few young di­rec­tors for some of the major cat­e­gories—the Eu­ro­pean Film Acad­emy would nevertheless fall back onto the plush cush­ions of its vet­er­ans. The ex­cel­lent film The Bro­ken Cir­cle Break­down (2012) by young Bel­gian di­rec­tor Felix van Groenin­gen was nom­i­nated in six cat­e­gories, but in the end only its female lead Veerle Baetens won a tro­phy for "Best Ac­tress". Oh Boy (2012) by the young Ger­man di­rec­tor Jan-Ole Ger­ster was also left empty-handed in the cat­e­gory of "Best Film," but was at least awarded the Prix FIPRESCI for "Best New Film". Oh Boy tells the story of the black-and-white days of Niko, a uni­ver­sity dropout in Berlin.  ‪A life that's fa­mil­iar to many Eu­ro­peans as the golden, frus­tra­ting cage of the glit­ter­ing me­trop­o­lis. 

Also fa­mil­iar with this cage is French-Por­tuguese di­rec­tor Ruben Alves, who won the au­di­ence award for his debut film La Cage Dorée (The Gilded Cage, 2013). The ques­tion of whether he's a French or a Por­tuguese di­rec­tor an­noys him a lit­tle: "It's as if some­one asks me if I like my fa­ther or mother more." ‪The an­swer is em­phatic: "I have no pref­er­ence. I feel Eu­ro­pean." ‪This em­pha­sis on a com­mon Eu­ro­pean iden­tity spreads through the award cer­e­mony like a mantra. Jan-Ole Ger­ster at­taches to it a feel­ing of home­sick­ness, while Cather­ine Deneuve re­al­izes with mar­vel in her ac­cep­tance speech that, "be­fore, I al­ways thought I was a French ac­tress, but as of a few years that's not true any­more. Now I see my­self as a Eu­ro­pean."

Among British ac­tors, Eu­ro­pean sen­ti­ments seem to be less com­mon, since the seats of Keira Knight­ley, Naomi Watts and Jude Law—who were nom­i­nated for "Best Ac­tress" and "Best Actor"—re­main empty. Even François Ozon, who wins an award for his screen­play Dans la mai­son (In The House, 2012), darts off the stage so quickly that one can't be sure to have seen him at all. Paolo Sor­rentino on the other hand—whose film La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty, 2013) won a total of four tro­phies, in­clud­ing "Best Pic­ture" and "Best Di­rec­tor"—is searched for in Berlin to no avail. His film, a trib­ute to the city of Rome and Fellini's mas­ter­piece Roma (1972), tells of the aging playboy Jep Gam­bardella, played by Toni Servillo (also a win­ner of "Best Actor"). Jep spends his op­u­lent and rak­ish years in the Roman high so­ci­ety revue, stum­bling from party to party, losing him­self in a men­tal­ity of re­splen­dent, world-weary deca­dence.  ‪The fact that the Eu­ro­pean Film Acad­emy has de­cided to honor a hymn to Rome as an ageing diva, grants a deeper look into the Acad­emy's men­tal­ity than might be wel­comed by some. 

Luckily, Ro­man­ian pro­ducer Ada Solomon—who won the award for "Best Eu­ro­pean Co Pro­ducer" (Prix EU­RIM­AGES)—shines a ray of hope on the strange, seem­ingly dead glam­our of the show. Her pro­duc­tion com­pany Hi­Film has pro­duced sev­eral suc­cess­ful, Ro­man­ian-di­rected films such as Best In­ten­tions (2011) by Adrian Sitaru or Pozi­tia Copilu­lui (Child's Pose, 2013) by Călin Peter Net­zer, who won a Golden Bear at this year's Berli­nale. "Eu­ro­pean film-mak­ers are like a large fam­ily. There­fore Eu­ro­pean cin­ema often cen­ters around fam­ily val­ues," says Solomon. ‪But one shouldn't get too nos­tal­gic: "Yes, one should honor their par­ents and pre­serve the her­itage of Eu­ro­pean cin­ema. On the other hand, we should also take care of our chil­dren, of the fu­ture and a new, younger cin­ema. ‪Let us look to the fu­ture and not in the past." ‪This year, the jury of the Eu­ro­pean Film Awards was only par­tially suc­cess­ful in this. It would be very de­sir­ably for the younger cin­ema, however, if next year's Eu­ro­pean Film Awards were less deca­dently par­a­lyz­ing and a little bit sexier instead.