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European Film Awards 2013: Poor but Decadent

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Default profile picture Danny S.

We're poor, but God for­bid sexy. ‪At the cer­e­mony of the 26th Eu­ro­pean Film Awards, film­mak­ers rise with lashes on cul­tural pol­i­tics, as­ser­tions of their Eu­ro­pean iden­tity and hymns to Cather­ine Deneuve. Hon­ored in par­tic­u­lar are the old mas­ters who in­dulge in deca­dence. ‪But what about the younger gen­er­a­tion?

Given the proper dose of glit­ter and the abun­dance of il­lus­tri­ous guests on the red car­pet at the cer­e­mony of the 26th Eu­ro­pean Film Awards in Berlin, one could assume that things weren't all that bad for Eu­ro­pean cin­ema, de­spite po­lit­i­cal and fi­nan­cial crises. But this il­lu­sion arises as quickly as Marion Döring, di­rec­tor of the Eu­ro­pean Film Acad­emy (EFA) which bestows the cov­eted Eu­ro­pean Film Awards on their lucky winners, de­mol­ishes it: "It's often said that Berlin is poor, but sexy. Un­for­tu­nately for the Eu­ro­pean Film Acad­emy only the for­mer ap­plies. It's only poor." ‪That is why the lo­ca­tion is so small, the scope of the Acad­emy lim­ited, and Eu­ro­pean film in gen­eral is left empty-handed. ‪What could eas­ily be dis­missed as a wry in­tro­duc­tion drags on through­out the evening, dur­ing which a total of 21 prizes are awarded to film­mak­ers from all over Eu­rope and Is­rael.

Pedro Almodóvar, who is hon­ored for his achievements in Eu­ro­pean cinema on the world stage, took the op­por­tu­nity to dis­credit the cat­a­strophic eco­nomic and cul­tural-po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion back in his home coun­try. De­spite the po­lit­i­cal and so­cial cri­sis and a gov­ern­ment that's "deaf and in­sen­si­tive" to all of Spain's prob­lems, Span­ish film­mak­ers are still able to suc­cess­fully make good films. ‪Almodóvar es­pe­cially ded­i­cated his award to the younger gen­er­a­tion of Span­ish di­rec­tors. Where they are, how­ever, re­mains un­clear. ‪Un­for­tu­nately, it's part of the cus­tom that for the most part Old Mas­ters and es­tab­lished names get nom­i­nated for the major cat­e­gories such as "Best Film," "Best Di­rec­tor" and "Best Screen­play." ‪Younger crews are usu­ally just left with minor awards like "Best Short Film" or "Best New­comer."

It seems some­what askew that— after ex­press­ing the will for less pre­dictabil­ity, and nom­i­nat­ing a few young di­rec­tors for some of the major cat­e­gories—the Eu­ro­pean Film Acad­emy would nevertheless fall back onto the plush cush­ions of its vet­er­ans. The ex­cel­lent film The Bro­ken Cir­cle Break­down (2012) by young Bel­gian di­rec­tor Felix van Groenin­gen was nom­i­nated in six cat­e­gories, but in the end only its female lead Veerle Baetens won a tro­phy for "Best Ac­tress". Oh Boy (2012) by the young Ger­man di­rec­tor Jan-Ole Ger­ster was also left empty-handed in the cat­e­gory of "Best Film," but was at least awarded the Prix FIPRESCI for "Best New Film". Oh Boy tells the story of the black-and-white days of Niko, a uni­ver­sity dropout in Berlin.  ‪A life that's fa­mil­iar to many Eu­ro­peans as the golden, frus­tra­ting cage of the glit­ter­ing me­trop­o­lis. 

Also fa­mil­iar with this cage is French-Por­tuguese di­rec­tor Ruben Alves, who won the au­di­ence award for his debut film La Cage Dorée (The Gilded Cage, 2013). The ques­tion of whether he's a French or a Por­tuguese di­rec­tor an­noys him a lit­tle: "It's as if some­one asks me if I like my fa­ther or mother more." ‪The an­swer is em­phatic: "I have no pref­er­ence. I feel Eu­ro­pean." ‪This em­pha­sis on a com­mon Eu­ro­pean iden­tity spreads through the award cer­e­mony like a mantra. Jan-Ole Ger­ster at­taches to it a feel­ing of home­sick­ness, while Cather­ine Deneuve re­al­izes with mar­vel in her ac­cep­tance speech that, "be­fore, I al­ways thought I was a French ac­tress, but as of a few years that's not true any­more. Now I see my­self as a Eu­ro­pean."

Among British ac­tors, Eu­ro­pean sen­ti­ments seem to be less com­mon, since the seats of Keira Knight­ley, Naomi Watts and Jude Law—who were nom­i­nated for "Best Ac­tress" and "Best Actor"—re­main empty. Even François Ozon, who wins an award for his screen­play Dans la mai­son (In The House, 2012), darts off the stage so quickly that one can't be sure to have seen him at all. Paolo Sor­rentino on the other hand—whose film La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty, 2013) won a total of four tro­phies, in­clud­ing "Best Pic­ture" and "Best Di­rec­tor"—is searched for in Berlin to no avail. His film, a trib­ute to the city of Rome and Fellini's mas­ter­piece Roma (1972), tells of the aging playboy Jep Gam­bardella, played by Toni Servillo (also a win­ner of "Best Actor"). Jep spends his op­u­lent and rak­ish years in the Roman high so­ci­ety revue, stum­bling from party to party, losing him­self in a men­tal­ity of re­splen­dent, world-weary deca­dence.  ‪The fact that the Eu­ro­pean Film Acad­emy has de­cided to honor a hymn to Rome as an ageing diva, grants a deeper look into the Acad­emy's men­tal­ity than might be wel­comed by some. 

Luckily, Ro­man­ian pro­ducer Ada Solomon—who won the award for "Best Eu­ro­pean Co Pro­ducer" (Prix EU­RIM­AGES)—shines a ray of hope on the strange, seem­ingly dead glam­our of the show. Her pro­duc­tion com­pany Hi­Film has pro­duced sev­eral suc­cess­ful, Ro­man­ian-di­rected films such as Best In­ten­tions (2011) by Adrian Sitaru or Pozi­tia Copilu­lui (Child's Pose, 2013) by Călin Peter Net­zer, who won a Golden Bear at this year's Berli­nale. "Eu­ro­pean film-mak­ers are like a large fam­ily. There­fore Eu­ro­pean cin­ema often cen­ters around fam­ily val­ues," says Solomon. ‪But one shouldn't get too nos­tal­gic: "Yes, one should honor their par­ents and pre­serve the her­itage of Eu­ro­pean cin­ema. On the other hand, we should also take care of our chil­dren, of the fu­ture and a new, younger cin­ema. ‪Let us look to the fu­ture and not in the past." ‪This year, the jury of the Eu­ro­pean Film Awards was only par­tially suc­cess­ful in this. It would be very de­sir­ably for the younger cin­ema, however, if next year's Eu­ro­pean Film Awards were less deca­dently par­a­lyz­ing and a little bit sexier instead.

Translated from Europäischer Filmpreis 2013: Arm, aber dekadent