What an odd event the European Film Awards is. Recently broadcast, the European Film Awards this year celebrated its Silver Jubilee edition. Like the Eurovision Song Contest, it has a revolving door policy in which the event is hosted annually by a different country. This time round it befell the tiny island of Malta to stage the event. And, like Eurovision, in its televised form it can’t escape a certain kitsch fascination.
The Awards were hosted by German comedienne Anke Engelke and presided over by Wim Wenders as acting President of the European Film Academy, the organization behind the ceremony. With Maltese folk band Brikkuni on stage to contribute a touch of local musical colour. As a spectacle, mostly it comes across as a low-rent version of the Oscars, but with highbrow aspirations. Indeed, the most common expression heard on the night from the lips of presenters and award-winners alike was “art-house” cinema.
The nominated titles in the European Film 2012 award category affirm that pedigree: Michael Haneke’s Amour, Paolo & Vittorio Taviani’s Cesare deve morire (Caesar Must Die), Thomas Vinterberg’s Jagten (The Hunt), Christian Petzold’s Barbara, Steve McQueen’s Shame, and Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano’s Intouchables (Untouchable). So, the European Film Awards isn’t a celebration of the industry (unlike the Oscars), but an affirmation of auteurist cinema. This is no more tellingly evident than in the European Film Academy Lifetime Achievement Award presented to Bernardo Bertolucci, the very symbol of an earlier –some might say, golden– age of European auteurism. Watching the highlights reel of Bertolucci’s career containing snippets from such films as Before the Revolution, The Conformist, Last Tango in Paris, 1990, et al, one can well believe that.
During the broadcast, a montage of talking heads featuring a range of prominent filmmakers (Ken Loach, Michael Haneke, Liv Ullmann, Costa-Gavras, Fatih Akin, et al) are posed the question, “what is a European film?” They all valiantly attempt an answer, yet each is less convincing that would be hoped. A little like the status of the European Union after the economic and political turbulence of the last few years. In a time of identity crisis, it is often the case that bonds of commonality are reaffirmed, even if one fears the centre will not hold.
Not surprisingly, Haneke’s Amour, a French/German/Austrian coproduction, made a clear sweep of the major awards; for best film, director, and acting awards for the two leads Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva. The film had already won the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Haneke is the most consistent chronicler of the historical vicissitudes of the European bourgeoisie over the course of the 2oth and early 21st century. If there is such a thing as a “European film”, right here and now, he may be its best exponent.
Hope you enjoy the new issue.