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The Favourite was the big winner Saturday night at the European Film Awards in Berlin, winning eight trophies, including for best European Film of 2019.
The wry period drama, which previously notched 10 Oscar nominations and one win for leading actress Olivia Coleman, also won EFAs for director Yorgos Lanthimos and Coleman, as well as the best comedy prize and technical honors for cinematography, editing, costume design and hair and makeup.
Antonio Banderas won the best European actor prize for his performance in Pedro Almodovar’s autobiographical drama Pain and Glory. The film also won the best European production design award for Antxon Gómez’s re-creation of 60 years of Spanish history, filtered through the lens of Almodovar’s flamboyant, technicolor life and work.
But the biggest story going into this year’s honors was the European Film Academy’s decision to nominate Roman Polanski’s period drama An Officer and a Spy in four of the main categories, including best European film, European director, European screenplay (for co-writers Polanski and Robert Harris) and European actor for French star Jean Dujardin.
Polanski’s pic had been well-received at its premiere in Venice — where it won the Grand Jury Prize — but the European Film Academy’s decision to honor the 86-year-old director drew condemnation from those who see Polanski primarily as a man accused of sexual assault and rape and who remains a fugitive from justice in the U.S. Last month, another woman, French actress Valentine Monnier, came forward with new allegations, claiming Polanski raped her in 1975 when she was 18. In response, a women’s rights group, J’Accuse Polanski, employing the French title of his latest film, called on the European Film Academy to rescind its nominations and ban Polanski’s film from the awards ceremony.
Numerous members of the French film industry, as well as Pulp Fiction actress Rosanne Arquette, signed a letter to the EFA calling for a Polanski ban. The French writers, producers and directors guild ARP has also proposed new guidelines to “suspend any member facing legal charges and expel any member convicted, especially for crimes of a sexual nature.” If adopted — the guild has yet to vote on the measure — the move would lead to the 86-year-old director’s expulsion. Polanski has denied the new allegations.
European Film Academy president Wim Wenders did not address the issue Saturday night during his initial remarks from the stage in Berlin. Deputy chairman Mike Downey did, however, note that “the European Film Academy deplores violence in all its forms” and said that the EFA board is looking to “revise its disciplinary measures” with respect to recent allegations against Polanski.
In the end, Polanski and An Officer and a Spy were snubbed entirely. In an ironic twist, Céline Sciamma’s feminist period drama Portrait of a Lady on Fire beat out Polanski and co-writer Robert Harris for the best European screenplay honor.
In sharp contrast to the EFA’s fence-sitting on the Polanski issue is the Academy’s stand for artistic freedom, exemplified by its ongoing support for Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who spent the better part of the past five years in prison before finally being released in September after intensive campaigning by the EFA. Sentsov was greeted with jubilant applause when he took the stage Saturday night in Berlin.
The European Film Awards can point to one of the best years in their 32-year history, with films from established masters — Almodovar’s Pain and Glory, Marco Bellocchio’s The Traitor, Polanski’s An Officer and A Spy — alongside dazzling debuts such as Ladj Ly’s Les Misérables and Nora Fingscheidt’s System Crasher and, with Lanthimos’ The Favourite, a genuine art house crossover hit that has earned close to $100 million worldwide.
There were plenty of gems in the smaller categories, as well. Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles by director Salvador Simó won for best European animated feature, prevailing over a strong lineup that included Jérémy Clapin’s I Lost My Body, Anca Damian’s Marona’s Fantastic Tale and The Swallows of Kabul from helmers Zabou Breitman and Éléa Gobbé-Mévellec. Ly’s Les Misérables lost out to the more established names in the main categories, but his powerful look at police brutality in the Parisian banlieues nabbed the European Discovery-Prix FIPRESCI honor for best first feature. For Sama, director Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts’ harrowing first-person account of the war in Syria, was tapped as best documentary.
And while the EFA may be divided over the issue of Polanski, Academy members seemed united in the decision to give this year’s lifetime achievement award to German director and actor Werner Herzog. The 77-year-old, who has helmed such classics as Fitzcarraldo and Aguirre, Wrath of God, as well as such groundbreaking documentaries as Grizzly Man and Cave of Forgotten Dreams, shows no signs of slowing down. In addition to his recurring role as The Client on Disney+ Star Wars series The Mandalorian, Herzog has directed and released two documentaries in the past year — Meeting Gorbachev and Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin — as well as one feature, Family Romance, LLC, his first film shot in Japanese.
Herzog used his speech to praise the solidarity in Europe’s national film industry and to remind Europeans that, despite political, economic and social problems, the European Union remains “the biggest peace project world history has ever seen.”
The evening’s other lifetime achievement honoree was French actress Juliette Binoche, who received the European Achievement in World Cinema honor, accepting the prize from her High Life director Claire Denis.
“I would like to give advice to young actresses: Choose your films, be responsible for what you’re choosing, because we make a difference,” Binoche said, hoisting her trophy.
In a first for the European Film Awards, the European Film Academy presented its inaugural Achievement in Fiction Series prize, honoring the best European series of the year, to the German period thriller Babylon Berlin, directed by Tom Tykwer, Henk Handloegten and Achim von Borries.
The full list of 2019 European Film Award winners follows.
The Favourite, Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos
Yorgos Lanthimos for The Favourite
Olivia Colman in The Favourite
Antonio Banderas in Pain and Glory
Céline Sciamma for Portrait of a Lady on Fire
The Favourite, Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos
For Sama, Dir. Waad al-Kateab, Edward Watts
EUROPEAN ANIMATED FILM
Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles, Dir. Salvador Simó
EUROPEAN DISCOVERY 2019 – Prix FIPRESCI
Les Misérables, Dir. Ladj Ly
Robbie Ryan for The Favourite
Yorgos Mavropsaridis for The Favourite
EUROPEAN PRODUCTION DESIGN
Antxon Gómez for Pain And Glory
EUROPEAN COSTUME DESIGN
Sandy Powell for The Favourite
EUROPEAN HAIR & MAKEUP
Nadia Stacey for The Favourite
EUROPEAN ORIGINAL SCORE
John Gürtler for System Crasher
Eduardo Esquide, Nacho Royo-Villanova, Laurent Chassaigne for A Twelve-Year Night
EUROPEAN VISUAL EFFECTS
Martin Ziebell, Sebastian Kaltmeyer, Néha Hirve, Jesper Brodersen, Torgeir Busch for About Endlessness
EUROPEAN SHORT FILM
The Christmas Gift, Dir. Bogdan Mure?anu
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
EUROPEAN ACHIEVEMENT IN WORLD CINEMA
ACHIEVEMENT IN FICTION SERIES
EFA PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARD
Cold War, Dir. Pawel Pawlikowski
EURIMAGES CO-PRODUCTION AWARD
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