'4 Months,' 'Band's Visit,' Mirren among EFA winners

Godard protests with a no-show

"4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," a drama about a young woman trying to get an illegal abortion in communist Romania, took the two top prizes at this year's European Film Awards, winning best European film and best European director for Cristian Mungiu.

The wins, coming after Mungiu took the Palme d'Or this year in Cannes, put the first-time director and "4 Months" at the front of the pack for next year's Oscar race for best foreign-language film.

"This is a great honor," said Mungiu, accepting the best film trophy in Berlin on Saturday. "I won't thank my producer because I was my producer."

Mungiu did, however, thank his young cast of unknowns before giving a shout-out to the Festival de Cannes.

"I really want to thank Cannes for this year opening up the competition to newcomers like me," Mungiu said. "It has made all the difference."

Cannes also made all the difference for the Israeli crowd-pleaser "The Band's Visit," which followed up its Un Certain Regard Jury prize with two EFA trophies: best actor for star Sasson Gabai and the European Discovery 2007 prize for director Eran Kolirin.

"Visit" isn't in the running for the foreign-language Oscar because much of the film is in English, but the EFA wins could give the picture a bump as it continues its international rollout.

Another Cannes winner — Fatih Akin's "The Edge of Heaven" — won the best screenplay prize. Akin thanked his editor, Andrew Bird, quipping that the "final result on the screen was much different than my original screenplay."

The wins for "4 Months" and "Visit" were a surprise for many pundits who thought Romania and Israel lacked the lobbying power with the big voting blocks in the European Film Academy, whose members vote for the EFAs.

Less surprising was the EFA for best actress, which went to Helen Mirren for "The Queen," completing Mirren's clean sweep of acting trophies for the role that has won her an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a BAFTA.

Mirren was unable to attend the EFA gala ceremony at the Arena in Berlin, accepting her prize via videotape.

She wasn't the only big no-show. French director Jean-Luc Godard, who was honored with a lifetime achievement award, canceled at the last minute.

"If someone says I've created a life's work, I have to accept that," Godard told German magazine Der Spiegel. "But not attending is my way of protesting that."

Godard said he was "ashamed" of having "done a little promotion" for his films by attending prize ceremonies in the past.

The EFA president, German director Wim Wenders, still gave his speech honoring Godard and his work, "without which European cinema would not look the same."

But Wenders was clearly disappointed by Godard decision to stay home.

"We didn't want to give you a song and dance; we wanted to bring you here to honor you in person for your body of work," Wenders said. "There are three generations of people in this room who feel the same."

One film legend that was on hand to accept his prize was German cinematographer Michael Ballhaus ("The Departed," "GoodFellas"), who received the 2007 European Achievement in World Cinema award.

Following a rambling, drunken and somewhat insulting introduction from Australian cameraman Christopher Doyle ("We cinematographers have to be whores, because we give you want and have to be happy doing it," Doyle ranted), Ballhaus took the stage to a spontaneous standing ovation.

After a warm video tribute from longtime collaborator Martin Scorsese, Ballhaus said his decision to retire after shooting the Oscar-winning "Departed" and return to Germany hadn't been an easy one.

"But leaving Hollywood meant I could return home to my country and my language," Ballhaus said, "and this prize is the most wonderful welcome back to Europe that I could have imagined."

Ballhaus' acceptance speech was the emotional high point of what was otherwise an often long and disjointed awards show. Clocking in at two and a half hours, the 20th EFAs featured many gaffs, including best actor winner Sasson Gabai being announced before the category's other nominees were named.

A complete list of winners can be found at hollywoodreporter.com.
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