French 'Oscars' award ceremony on a mission to lift spirits after year of crises

France holds the 46th edition of the César film awards at the Olympia, Paris, on Friday, 12 March.
France holds the 46th edition of the César film awards at the Olympia, Paris, on Friday, 12 March. AFP - JACQUES DEMARTHON

France is holding the 46th edition of its annual celebration of cinema, Les Césars, on Friday evening: an act of resistance with cinemas still closed due to Covid and the memory of  last year's bitter fall-out over the industry's response to the #MeToo movement.


There were questions as to whether the 2021 Césars awards ceremony would take place at all this year, given the Covid pandemic which threatens to dampen the party mood.

But despite a few weeks' delay, the Césars are on track for a televised ceremony - albeit with strictly limited attendance that will include only the nominees and presenters.

"It's at funerals that we laugh the most," joked this year's master of ceremonies, actress Marina Foïs.

Although the French film industry fared slightly better than other countries last year thanks to reopenings over the summer, cinemas have been shuttered again since October with no end in sight, and there are hundreds of films all dressed up with nowhere to go.

The 2020 Césars made headlines for all the wrong reasons. In the build-up the ceremony, the entire board of the César Academy resigned after director Roman Polanski, who is wanted in the U.S. for rape and has faced multiple sexual assault allegations in France, received the most nominations, for his film An Officer and a Spy.

The night itself was one of the most fractious in French cinema history, with stars like Adele Haenel, the breakout star from 2019's "Portrait of a Lady on Fire", walking out of the ceremony when Polanski, who was not present, won best director and best screenplay, and police using tear gas against protesters outside.

Haenel became a hero of the #MeToo movement in France after accusing the director of her first film, Christophe Ruggia, of sexually harassing her when she was only 12.

For many, the academy's choices underlined reluctance to face up to abuse in the French film industry.

Behind the scenes drama 

There are no big controversies in the nominations list this year, with a light-hearted drama about messy romances Love Affair(s) (also titled The Things We Say, The Things We Do) leading the pack with 13 nominations.

Among those handing out prizes on Friday night will be Cesar favourite Isabelle Huppert.

But there are few signs that women and ethnic minorities are progressing up the ranks, with both the best film and best director categories including only one woman.

Much of the drama this year has been behind the scenes, as the academy tried to rebuild itself and its reputation with a new board under Veronique Cayla, former head of cultural channel Arte, and director Eric Toledano.

Their choice of presenter was a statement in itself: Marina Foïs is a leading feminist voice in the industry who strongly denounced the previous academy's direction. She has said much more work is needed, particularly in reaching an equal gender split among voters.

(with AFP)

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