European Film Awards: 'The Great Beauty' Takes Top Prize

BERLIN -- Paolo Sorrentino's Italian drama The Great Beauty, a sort-of-update of Federico Fellini's classic La Dolce Vita, was the great winner of the 26th European Film Awards, taking best film, best director and best actor trophies. The film, which premiered in Cannes, is Italy's candidate for the 2014 best foreign language Oscar.

Blue Is the Warmest Color, the erotic Cannes Palme d'Or winner about two women in love from Tunisian-French director Abdellatif Kechiche, was snubbed, going home empty-handed.

Sorrentino, who took the European Director honor, was unable to attend this year's EFAs, as he was sitting on the jury for the Marrakech Film Festival. But his lead actor, Toni Servillo, was on hand to accept his European Actor trophy for his role as an aging and cynical society reporter cutting his way through Rome's great and powerful.

FILM REVIEW: The Great Beauty

The biggest upset of the night came in the actress category, when Belgian star Veerle Baetens won the European Actress trophy, beating out bigger names -- including Keira Knightley, Naomi Watts and Barbara Sukowa -- for her portrayal as a tattooed bluegrass singer in Felix van Groeningen's sleeper hit The Broken Circle Breakdown.

Though The Great Beauty ran away with the 2013 EFAs, there was no clear favorite going into this year's awards. If there was any single thread connecting the diverse selection of nominees, it appeared to be nostalgia. Features as diverse as Sorrentino's The Great Beauty, Kechiche's Blue Is the Warmest Color, the black-and-white silent drama Blancanieves from Spain's Pablo Berger and Oh Boy from German first-timer Jan Ole Gerster, all seemed to look back to the roots of European cinema for their stylistic and thematic inspiration.

Romanian producer Ada Solomon, winner of this year's European co-production prize, the Prix Eurimages, commented on the trend when she accepted her award, saying it was time to drop the nostalgia and look forward.

"We look to our parents, and honor them, but we have to look to our kids, to the future of cinema," she said. "A new cinema is coming up and we have to look forward and not so much backwards."

Among the more cutting-edge films honored at the EFAs were Joshua Oppenheimer's ground-breaking documentary The Act of Killing, which took the European Documentary honor. The acclaimed nonfiction film, in which members of Indonesia's death squads reenact their mass killings in the cinematic genres of their choice, recently made the Oscar shortlist and is considered one of the frontrunners for the Academy Award next year.

Best animated feature also went to the most innovative title nominated, The Congress from Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman. Folman noted that the anti-Hollywood sci-fi satire, which stars Robin Wright, was a "true European co-production," with the animation work done by hundreds of animators in 9 European countries.

The inaugural European Comedy honor went to Susanne Bier for her romantic comedy Love Is All You Need. Lead actress Trine Dyrholm accepted on behalf of Bier, who was on location shooting her next feature, A Second Chance.

German director Gerster took home the European Discovery award, the Prix Fipresci for best first feature, for Oh Boy, a black-and-white dramedy that traces a single day in the life of a 30-something slacker in Berlin.

French director Francois Ozon took the best screenplay honor for the script to his literate thriller In the House, about a precocious high school student who infiltrates and disrupts the life of his French teacher.

The gala event, held Saturday night at the classy Berliner Festspiele arts center in western Berlin, was a suitably swanky and star-studded affair. In addition to the prize winners and nominees, Euro cinema VIPs including Diane Kruger, Paz Vega, Christopher Lambert, Kristin Scott Thomas, Wim Wenders and Agnieszka Holland graced the red carpet.

The evening's emotional high point came when Oscar-winning Spanish director Pedro Almodovar received this year's EFA honor for European Achievement in World Cinema. Swedish actress Noomi Rapace (Prometheus) presented the Oscar winner with the award, joined onstage by a whole troupe of Almodovar's Spanish actors, including Paz Vega, Rossy de Palma, Elena Anaya, Carlos Areces, Raul Arevalo, Javier Camara, Hugo Silva, Miguel Angel Silvestre, Blanca Suarez and Leonor Watling. The Spaniards broke into an a cappella version of The Pointer Sisters' I'm So Excited, a reference to the title of Almodovar's latest feature.

The Spanish director dedicated the prize to his brother and producer Agustin Almodovar Caballero and to the women of his mother's generation.

"I grew up surrounded by women. They inspired me with their strength, their sense of humor, their lack of prejudice," he said.

Almodovar then took aim at Spain's current conservative government, attacking them for slashing spending on social programs and the arts. He said he dedicated his prize to "the victims of  a government that is absolutely deaf and insensitive to the problems of my country."

The lifetime achievement prize went to French living legend Catherine Deneuve. European Film Academy president Wim Wenders presented Deneuve with the honor, calling her "a goddess, the queen of European cinema … the most beautiful woman on the earth."

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The EFA People's Choice Award, voted on by European cinemagoers, went to French comedy The Gilded Cage from director Ruben Alves.

The EFA Young Adults' honor, picked by hundreds of 12- to 14-year-old European fans in cities across the continent, was awarded to The Zigzag Kid from Dutch director Vincent Bal.

Winners in the technical categories were not voted on by European Academy members but picked by a seven-person expert jury and announced earlier.

They included the European Composer prize to Oscar winner Ennio Morricone for his score to The Best Offer and the cinematography award to Asaf Sudri for the lensing of Rama Burshtein's Fill the VoidCristiano Travaglioli took the European Editor 2013 honor for his work on The Best Offer. Sarah Greenwood won best production design for Anna Karenina; Paco Delgado took best costume design for Blancanieves; and the sound design award went to Matz Muller and Erik Mischijew for their work on Ulrich Seidl's Paradise: Faith.

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