'Les Miserables' Wins Best Film at Cesar Awards, Polanski Takes Best Director

12:11 PM 2/28/2020

by Scott Roxborough

Feminist protesters disrupted the Friday ceremony, decrying the 12 nominations given to Roman Polanski's 'An Officer and a Spy.'

'An Officer and a Spy'
'An Officer and a Spy'
Venice Film Festival

Les Misérables, Ladj Ly's blistering look at life in the Parisian banlieues, on Friday won the 2020 Cesar Award for best film, beating out all comers, including Roman Polanski's An Officer and a Spy.

Les Misérables' Alexis Manenti, who plays a racist cop, picked up the best male newcomer Cesar, while the pic also received the public Cesar, voted on by the French film-going audience, and a best editing honor for Flora Volpelière.

But the French Film Academy ignored a street full of protesters and a furious army of online critics to give Polanski its top directing honor. The controversial filmmaker won the best directing Cesar for An Officer and a Spy. Polanski and co-writer Robert Harris also won the best adapted screenplay prize, while the film's Pascaline Chavanne took the Cesar for best costume design.

Actress Adèle Haenel (Portrait of a Lady on Fire) looked visibly upset when Polanski's name was called as best director. She left the room, and several others followed.

Polanski was not at the gala to accept his honor, having pulled out of attending the ceremony, saying he feared a "public lynching" by feminist protesters if he went. On Friday, An Officer and a Spy producer Alain Goldman and star Jean Dujardin also announced they also wouldn't be attending the Cesars. Goldman told AFP that “an escalation of inappropriate and violent language and behavior" towards Polanski was the reason.

Anaïs Demoustier won the first Cesar of her career, taking best actress honors for her role as a brilliant young philosopher assisting a local politician in crisis in Nicolas Pariser's Alice and the Mayor.

In a surprise win, Roschdy Zem was tapped as best actor for his role as a police captain in Arnaud Desplechin's crime drama Oh Mercy!

Lyna Khoudri took home the best female newcomer prize for Mounia Meddour's Papicha, in which she plays a young student in 1990s Algiers determined to put on a fashion show despite the threat from Islamic extremists to shut it down. Papicha also took the best first film award for Meddour.

Jérémy Clapin and Guillaume Laurant received the best adapted screenplay award for their script to the Netflix animated feature I Lost My Body. 
The film also won best original score honors for Dan Levy, also known as the co-founder, with Olivia Merilahti, of the Finnish-French indie pop band The Dø.

The legendary Fanny Ardant collected another Cesar, this time for best supporting actress for her role in La Belle Époque, Nicolas Bedos' romantic comedy about a man who tries to escape his life's problems by using a service that allows him to live in the past. The film also earned best production design honors for Stéphane Rosenbaum.

Swann Arlaud was tapped as best supporting actor for his portrayal of a survivor of child sexual abuse in Francois Ozon's By the Grace of God.

Best sound honors went to the Wolf's Call team of Nicolas Cantin, Thomas Desjonquères, Raphaël Mouterde, Olivier Goinard and Randy Thom.

Yolande Zauberman's M, an investigation into sexual abuse in an ultra-orthodox community in Israel, was named best documentary.

This year's Cesars were dogged by controversy, much of it surrounding Polanski, whose An Officer and a Spy received 12 nominations, the most of any film this year.

One of France's leading feminist organizations, Osez le féminisme! (Dare feminism!), held a major protest outside the Salle Pleyel in Paris where the Cesar ceremony was held, calling on demonstrators to attend via a call on its website and Facebook page. It was joined by several other activist groups who are outraged that the French Film Academy honored Polanski, whom they see as a sex criminal. The protesters, who carried banners inscribed with the names of filmmakers suspected of sexual assault or rape, including Polanski and Luc Besson, were dispersed by police.

The 87-year-old director and Oscar winner has been a fugitive from U.S. justice since 1978 for the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl. In recent years, a number of other women have come forward accusing Polanski of sexual assault, most involving alleged incidents dating back decades. He has denied all the new allegations against him.

Earlier this month, the French Film Academy's board of directors abruptly announced their collective resignation, complaining about the lack of diversity among this year's nominees and a general lack of transparency, particularly fiscal transparency, within the organization.

The board's resignation was triggered by an open letter to French newspaper Le Monde, signed by some 400 of the country's leading filmmakers, which called the Academy's leadership dysfunctional and "a vestige of an era that we would like to be over, that of an elitist and closed system."

The Academy said it would hold a general assembly of its members after this year's Cesars to elect a new board.