Cinema

'No culture, no future': French film awards turn into protest over Covid closures

Poster for the film «Adieu les cons» (Bye bye Morons) by Albert Dupontel, which won seven awards at the French annual César cinema awards, 12 March 2021.
Poster for the film «Adieu les cons» (Bye bye Morons) by Albert Dupontel, which won seven awards at the French annual César cinema awards, 12 March 2021. Manchester Films

France's annual celebration of cinema, Les Césars, on Friday became the stage for venting frustrations over the months-long shutdown of theatres. Actress Corinne Masiero stole the limelight when she stripped naked with the words "No culture, no future" written across her front as she presented the costume award.

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The mood was set from the opening monologue, as mistress of ceremonies Marina Fois launched a scathing attack on Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot.

"The minister hasn't done nothing... Madame Bachelot, you released a book with your recipe for pasta and gorgonzola," the actress joked, before striking a sad note to conclude: "What we miss is what unites us, the emotions that we experience together."

Bachelot was reportedly present in the Olympia venue in Paris for the 46th edition, but the television channel Canal+ was instructed not to zoom in on her.

Several participants at the César Awards used the event as a platform to confront the government over its decision to keep cinemas shut since October, even as most other businesses have reopened.

"My children can go to Zara but not the cinema... it's incomprehensible," said Stephane Demoustier as he picked up the Cesar for best screenplay for "The Girl With a Bracelet".

For her part, actress Corinne Masiero turned her message into performance art. She wore a bloody donkey costume, before stripping naked - to reveal messages painted on her body - referring to how cinema industry workers see themselves "stripped" of work in the face of the pandemic.

On her back were the words "Give us back our art Jean," directed at Prime Minister Jean Castex, while on her chest were the words "No culture no future".

The country has seen mounting protests in recent days over the closure of cultural sites, with several theatres occupied by activists and students.

Greater diversity

The big winner on the night was Adieu les Cons (Bye Bye Morons), a comedy drama about a seriously ill woman searching for her long-lost child, which took home seven awards including best film and best director for Albert Dupontel.

French film producer Sidonie Dumas accepts the Best Feature Film award on behalf of French actor and film director Albert Dupontel for the movie "Adieu les cons" (Bye Bye Morons) next to French film producer Catherine Bozorgan (L) and Belgian actress Virginie Efira (R) during the 46th edition of the Cesar Film Awards ceremony at The Olympia concert venue in Paris on March 12, 2021.
French film producer Sidonie Dumas accepts the Best Feature Film award on behalf of French actor and film director Albert Dupontel for the movie "Adieu les cons" (Bye Bye Morons) next to French film producer Catherine Bozorgan (L) and Belgian actress Virginie Efira (R) during the 46th edition of the Cesar Film Awards ceremony at The Olympia concert venue in Paris on March 12, 2021. AFP - BERTRAND GUAY

The documentary by Sébastien Lifshitz, Adolescentes, (Teenagers) won four Césars, while the favourite, with thirteen nominations Les Choses qu'on dit, les choses qu'on fait, (Love Affairs) by Emmanuel Mouret, won only one award - that of best supporting actress for Emily Dequenne.

The awards also reflected an effort by the academy to embrace calls for greater ethnic diversity, with the most promising actor and actress awards going to Jean-Pascal Zadi and Fathia Youssouf.

Zadi's film, Tout simplement noir, (Simply Black) plays on racist cliches about black people in France, while 14-year-old Youssouf won for her part in the controversial Netflix film Mignonnes (Cuties) about teenage girls caught between the pressures of Senegalese society and social media.

"The rules of the game are changing, not so that the game stops, but so that it can be played fairly this time," said co-host Roschdy Zem at the start of the evening.

Elsewhere, the foreign film award went to Danish cult favourite Thomas Vinterberg for Another Round starring Mads Mikkelsen as a binge-drinking high school teacher.

Bid to shake off 2020 bad memories

Hanging heavy over the ceremony was the memory of last year's disasterous event, in which the decision to award veteran Polish director Roman Polanski -- accused of multiple sexual assaults and the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl -- led to stars walking out and police teargassing protesters outside.

The entire Cesar academy board resigned in the build-up to the 2020 ceremony due to the uproar over Polanski's nominations for his film An Officer and a Spy, which many saw as proof of the French industry's failure to respond to the #MeToo movement.

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

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