'A Prophet,' Isabelle Adjani: César Winners

Tahar Rahim in A Prophet

A Prophet, Jacques Audiard's internationally acclaimed prison drama, was the big winner at the 2010 César Awards ceremony held at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard served as the ceremony's honorary president. She was assisted by co-presenters Gad Elmaleh and Valérie Lemercier.

Starring relative newcomer Tahar Rahim as a new inmate who must fend off for himself while prison, A Prophet won a total of nine Césars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay (Audiard, Thomas Bidegain, Abdel Raouf Dafri, and Nicolas Peufaillit), Best Actor (Rahim), and Best Male Newcomer (also Rahim), and Best Supporting Actor (Niels Arestrup).

Previously, A Prophet had won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival, France's Louis Delluc Prize, the London Film Critics Best Film Award, and the BAFTA for Best Foreign Language Film. It's also in the running for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award.

Upon accepting his third award of the evening, when A Prophet was named Best Film, Audiard referred to the country's undocumented population, particularly France's undocumented filmmakers. In the presence of French Minister of Culture Frédéric Mitterrand, he issued an appeal: “There are those who are disturbed at this time; it would be good if the powers-that-be could be more considerate toward them.” He then dedicated his César to those undocumented workers.

Three years ago, Audiard also won three Césars the same evening. That was when the underworld vs. piano-playing drama The Beat That My Heart Skipped swept the Césars with ten wins. Additionally, Audiard won a César for Best Screenplay (Original or Adapted) for Sur mes lèvres (2001) and his Regarde les hommes tomber (1994) was voted Best First Film.

Tahar Rahim in A Prophet

“You've seen a beur [Arab, French-Arab; pronounced like “beurre,” butter] melt,” an overwhelmed Tahar Rahim declared while accepting the Best Male Newcomer award. “Guys, what an adventure! I'll never be able to thank you enough for having offered me that, for having invited me on board. And Jacques, for having placed me on first class.” Rahim, the first performer to win both the Best Actor and Best Male Newcomer Award, later exclaimed, “It's incredible what's happening! I'd like to thank the France of the Movies for this honor. And long live French cinema.”

Last weekend, Rahim lost the British Academy's 2010 Orange Rising Star Award to Kristen Stewart. The public voted for the winner of that particular prize.

A Prophet has sold more than 1.2 million tickets in France. It's an undeniable hit, but for comparison's sake: The Princess and the Frog has sold 2.9 million tickets, the documentary Oceans 2.2 million, Sherlock Holmes 1.7 million, and Avatar 13.8 million.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, French films sold 200 million tickets in 2009 and 19 million in January of 2010.

Source: CBO Box Office

Photos: A Prophet (Roger Arpajou / Sony Pictures Classics)

Romy Schneider in L'enfer d'Henry-Georges Clouzot

Emmanuelle Devos was the Best Supporting Actress César winner for Xavier Giannoli's In the Beginning, a well-received drama that also played at Cannes. In the film, Devos plays the mayor of a small town in the north of France suffering from high unemployment rates. A teary-eyed Mélanie Thierry was the Best Female Newcomer for her young alcoholic in Le dernier pour la route (One for the Road). Never mind the fact that Thierry has been around for more than a decade.

Serge Bromberg and Ruxandra Medrea's L'enfer d'Henri-Georges Clouzot (Henri-Georges Clouzot's Hell), about the Diaboliques and The Wages of Fear director's unfinished 1964 effort L'enfer starring Romy Schneider and Serge Reggiani, was voted best documentary, while Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino was the Best Foreign Film and Riad Sattouf's Les beaux gosses (The French Kissers) was the Best First Film. The Best Short was C'est gratuit pour les filles (It's Free for Girls) by Claire Burger and Maria Amachoukeli.

Stéphane Brizé and Florence Vignon won the Best Adapted Screenplay for Mademoiselle Chambon, in which Vincent Lindon plays a happily married man whose family life is derailed when he becomes enamored of a teacher.

Radu Mihaileanu's Le Concert, partly shot at the Théâtre du Châtelet where the César ceremony was held, won two awards: Best Original Score and Best Sound. Coco Before Chanel, starring Audrey Tautou, won the Best Costume Design César. The film is also in the running in that category for this year's Oscars.

Philippe Lioret's Welcome, also starring Vincent Lindon, went home empty-handed despite its ten nominations and an upset win at the Lumière Awards a few weeks ago. Welcome was turned into a cause célèbre – and a sleeper box office hit – after a politician criticized the film for its negative depiction of France's anti-immigration laws and law-enforcement agencies.

Isabelle Adjani in Skirt Day

Veteran Isabelle Adjani, 54, received the Best Actress César from the hands of Gérard Depardieu, who announced, “Ah, [the winner] is a friend!"

In Jean-Paul Lilienfeld's Skirt Day, Adjani plays a teacher on the verge of a nervous breakdown, having to deal with obnoxious, misogynistic students in a rough, immigrant-filled Parisian neighborhood. The teacher ends up taking matters in her own hands when her students ridicule and harass her on the day she shows up wearing a skirt in class. Her solution? Point a gun at them and hold them hostage.

Now with five César wins in the Best Actress category, Adjani has broken her own record. Her previous wins were for Andrzej Zulawski's Possession (1981), Jean Becker's One Deadly Summer (1983), Bruno Nuytten's Camille Claudel (1988), and Patrice Chéreau's Queen Margot (1994). Additionally, Adjani was nominated for The Story of Adele H. (1975), Barocco (1976), and Subway (1985).

After crying uncontrollably, Adjani managed to read her (very, very) long speech, partly reproduced here:

“I believe I've never been as moved as I am tonight because of this César. This César crowns the most modest role of my career and the choice of a film no one had been interested in. I'm very proud that my work has been recognized in such fashion.”

“Film tests our conscience and the legacy we want to leave our children. For me that's a joy that goes beyond winning an award. … This film was a very small effort and I'd never have believed that it would have gotten this far within the industry and with the public. Everything is still possible for those films that are capable of creating a path for themselves, even if often no one wants them because they [have something important to say].”

After remembering her deceased mother, Adjani teared up again and got off the stage.

Skirt Day filmmakers had to fight to get their film screened at a few French movie houses. The Best Picture César nominee sold less than 60,000 admissions in its first two weeks, but was seen by more than 2.2 million television viewers when shown on ARTE, breaking audience records for the station.

Isabelle Adjani quote: Voici

'A Prophet,' Isabelle Adjani: César Winners © 2004–2018 Alt Film Guide and/or author(s).
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