- The story of two emotionally disturbed Turkish-Germans, Fatih Akin’s psychological culture clash drama Head-On has been named this year’s Best European Film.
- The European Film Awards’ penchant for “culture clash movies” was also manifested in their Best Director, Actor, and Actress choices: Alejandro Amenábar and Javier Bardem for the right-to-die drama The Sea Inside, and Imelda Staunton for the abortion drama Vera Drake.
Culture clash drama Head-On named year’s Best European Film + Pedro Almodóvar is EFA’s biggest loser
Screenwriter-director Fatih Akin’s German-Turkish culture clash drama Head-On / Gegen die Wand (literally, “Against the Wall”) was selected as 2004’s Best European Film, while Pedro Almodóvar turned out to be the biggest loser at the European Film Awards ceremony held on Dec. 11 in Barcelona. (Scroll down for more on Pedro Almodóvar and to check out the list of this year’s winners and nominees.)
Head-On tells the story of a young Turkish-German woman and suicide attempt survivor (Sibel Kekilli) who marries another Turkish-German suicide attempt survivor (Birol Ünel) just so she can escape from her strict Muslim family.
The meeting of different cultures – and its at times dire consequences – have been a central theme in the career of the Turkish-German filmmaker, as attested by his previous three features: Solino (Italians in Germany), In July (German teacher headed to Turkey), and Short Sharp Shock (multiethnic criminals).
Sole ‘official’ European Film Award victory
Somewhat surprisingly, Head-On failed to take home any of the other official European Film Awards for which it had been nominated: Best Director, Best Actor (Ünel), Best Actress (Kekilli), and Best Screenwriter. In the “popular” categories, it received the Jameson People’s Choice Award for Best European Director.
Earlier this year, Akin’s film was honored with both the Golden Bear and the International Federation of Film Critics’ FIPRESCI Prize at the Berlin Film Festival.
Additionally, Head-On won five Lolas a.k.a. German Film Academy Awards: Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor (Ünel), Best Actress (Kekilli), and Best Cinematography (Rainer Klausmann).
More ‘culture clash’ movies: Best Actor Javier Bardem & Best Actress Imelda Staunton
Two other “culture clash” movies also fared well at the European Film Awards.
Javier Bardem was named Best European Actor for his performance as a tetraplegic fighting for the right to die – in a Christian-rooted culture that condemns euthanasia – in Alejandro Amenábar’s Spanish drama The Sea Inside / Mar adentro, which also earned Amenábar the Best European Director award. (More on Amenábar below.)
The Best European Actress was Imelda Staunton for her portrayal of a working-class woman willing to help other women “in trouble” in Mike Leigh’s British drama Vera Drake, about the travails of a part-time abortionist in 1950s England, where Christian-rooted cultural forces banned the procedure.
A few months ago, Vera Drake, Staunton, and Bardem received top honors at the Venice Film Festival.
Best European Director Alejandro Amenábar
As mentioned above, although this year’s Best European Film winner was Fatih Akin’s Head-On, Alejandro Amenábar was the Best European Director for the right-to-die drama The Sea Inside.
Something worth reiterating is that these two European Film Award winners – at first glance totally disparate releases – actually have a key thematic element in common: Both Head-On and The Sea Inside center on characters entangled in a do-or-die culture clash, pitting their need for “radical” systemic change against the needs of those who want things to remain “as they’ve always been.”
Now, how common is this Best Picture/Best Director split at the 17-year-old European Film Awards?
It’s impossible to say.
That’s because the Best European Director slot was gone from the regular competition roster throughout the 1990s, resurfacing again only in 2001, when both Jean-Pierre Jeunet and his film, Amélie / Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain, topped their respective categories.
Two years later, Wolfgang Becker’s Good Bye Lenin! was named Best Film, but the Best Director was Lars von Trier for Dogville.
Liv Ullmann gets longest standing ovation
Among the other 2004 European Film Award honorees were the following:
- Norwegian actress-director, former Ingmar Bergman muse, and two-time Best Actress Oscar nominee Liv Ullmann (The Emigrants, 1972; Face to Face, 1976) was handed the European Achievement in World Cinema Award. The Persona, Scenes from a Marriage, and Autumn Sonata star also happened to be greeted by the longest standing ovation of the evening.
- Spanish filmmaker Carlos Saura (Cria Cuervos, Carmen) was given the European Film Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
- Wong Kar-Wai’s chronicle of the romantic adventures of a writer, 2046 (China | Hong Kong | France) was the Best Non-European Film. In the all-star cast: Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Zhang Ziyi, Gong Li, Faye Wong, Maggie Cheung, and Carina Lau.
- Agnès Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri were the Best European Screenwriters for director Jaoui’s French comedy-drama Look at Me / Comme une image.
- The Best European Documentary was Hubert Sauper’s Darwin’s Nightmare, about the environmental and social catastrophe caused by the European-market-oriented fishing industry in the vicinity of Tanzania’s Lake Victoria.
- Eduardo Serra was the Best European Cinematographer for Peter Webber’s British period drama Girl with a Pearl Earring, starring Colin Firth as Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer and, in the title role, U.S. actress Scarlett Johansson.
- Bruno Coulais was the Best European Composer for Christophe Barratier’s sentimental, boys-school-set French drama The Chorus / Les Choristes.
Penélope Cruz celebration
The 2004 European Film Award winners were selected by members of the European Film Academy, composed of approximately 1,600 film industry professionals from all over Europe. Its current president is German filmmaker Wim Wenders (The American Friend, Wings of Desire).
The Jameson People’s Choice Awards, however, are voted on by the public. Besides Best Director Fatih Akin for Head-On, this year’s winners were Best Actor Daniel Brühl for Achim von Borries’ psychological “free love” German drama Love in Thoughts / Was nützt die Liebe in Gedanken, and Penélope Cruz for actor-director-screenwriter Sergio Castellitto’s Italian drama Don’t Move / Non ti muovere.
“It’s important that we celebrate what is being done in film over here,” opined Cruz, who plays a destitute woman having an affair with a physician in Don’t Move. She should know what she’s talking about, as her Hollywood movies – among them All the Pretty Horses, Blow, and Vanilla Sky – seem to have been not quite worth celebrating.
Cruz was also an “official” Best European Actress nominee, ultimately losing out to the aforementioned Imelda Staunton.
Biggest loser Pedro Almodóvar
Considering that among the 2004 European Film Award winners and honorees were Javier Bardem, Alejandro Amenábar, Carlos Saura, and Penélope Cruz, Spanish movie talent succeeded admirably at the Barcelona-set ceremony.
Paradoxically, the evening’s biggest loser was another Spanish film personality: Pedro Almodóvar, whose gay-themed, daringly subversive Bad Education / La Mala educación received seven nominations – including two for the Jameson People’s Choice Awards – but ended up empty-handed.
Almodóvar’s mix of sex, comedy, drama, romance, film noir, and social commentary stars Mexican actor Gael García Bernal and Spaniard Fele Martínez as two men caught between the ever-shifting present and, all illusions and obfuscations aside, disturbing past events at a Catholic boarding school.
Dec. 14 update: Snubbed at the European Film Awards and a sad Oscar orphan, Bad Education has been chosen as the New York Film Critics Circle’s Best Foreign Language Film.
European Film Awards: Winners & partial list of nominees
A Hole in My Heart / Ett Hål I Mitt Hjärta, Sweden | Denmark.
* Head-On, Germany.
Bad Education, Spain.
The Chorus, France | Switzerland.
The Sea Inside, Spain | France | Italy.
Vera Drake, U.K. | France.
Fatih Akin, Head-On.
Pedro Almodóvar, Bad Education.
* Alejandro Amenábar, The Sea Inside.
Theo Angelopoulos, Trilogy – The Weeping Meadow / Trilogia – To Livadi Pou Dakrizi.
Nimród Antal, Kontroll.
Agnès Jaoui, Look at Me.
Sarah Adler, Notre Musique.
Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, 5 x 2.
Penélope Cruz, Don’t Move.
Sibel Kekilli, Head-On.
Asi Levi, Avanim.
* Imelda Staunton, Vera Drake.
* Javier Bardem, The Sea Inside.
Daniel Brühl, The Edukators / Die Fetten Jahre sind Vorbei.
Bruno Ganz, Downfall / Der Untergang.
Gérard Jugnot, The Chorus.
Bogdan Stupka, Our Own / Svoi.
Birol Ünel, Head-On.
Fatih Akin, Head-On.
Pedro Almodóvar, Bad Education.
Alejandro Amenábar & Mateo Gil, The Sea Inside.
Jean-Luc Godard, Notre Musique.
* Agnès Jaoui & Jean-Pierre Bacri, Look at Me.
Paul Laverty, Ae Fond Kiss.
Javier Aguirresarobe, The Sea Inside.
José Luis Alcaine, Bad Education.
Lajos Koltai, Being Julia.
Alwin Kuchler & Marcel Zyskind, Code 46.
* Eduardo Serra, Girl with a Pearl Earring.
Andreas Sinanos, Trilogy – The Weeping Meadow.
* Bruno Coulais, The Chorus.
Alexandre Desplat, Girl with a Pearl Earring.
The Free Association, Code 46.
Alberto Iglesias, Bad Education & Take My Eyes / Te doy mis ojos.
Eleni Karaindrou, Trilogy – The Weeping Meadow.
Stephen Warbeck, The Alzheimer Case / De Zaak Alzheimer.
European Discovery – Prix Fassbinder
A Common Thread / Brodeuses, dir.: Eléonore Faucher.
* Stolen Childhood / A Children’s Story / Certi bambini, dir.: Andrea & Antonio Frazzi.
Kroko, dir.: Sylke Enders.
Mon Trésor / Or, dir.: Keren Yedaya.
A Wonderful Night in Split / Ta Divna Splitska Noc, dir.: Arsen Anton Ostojic.
Harvest Time / Vremya Zhatvy, dir.: Marina Razbezhkina.
European Documentary – Prix Arte
Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer.
* Darwin’s Nightmare.
Addicted to Acting / Die Spielwütigen.
Basque Ball, Skin Against Stone / La Pelota Vasca, La piel contra la piedra.
The World According to Bush / Le monde selon Bush.
Checkpoint / Mahssomim.
The Last Victory.
Touch the Sound: A Sound Journey with Evelyn Glennie.
Non-European Film – Prix Screen International
* 2046 (France | China).
3-iron (Korea | Japan).
The Motorcycle Diaries / Diarios de Motocicleta (Argentina | Brazil | Chile | Peru | U.S.).
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (U.S.).
Fahrenheit 9/11 (U.S.).
Maria Full of Grace (U.S. | Colombia).
Moolaadé (Burkina Faso | Morocco | Tunisia | Cameroon).
Old Boy (Korea | Japan).
House of Flying Daggers (China).
European Short Film – Prix UIP (winner)
* I’ll Wait for the Next One / J’attendrai le suivant… (France), dir.: Philippe Orreindy.
Lifetime Achievement Award: Carlos Saura.
European Achievement in World Cinema: Liv Ullmann.
FIPRESCI Prize: Trilogy – The Weeping Meadow.
“Culture Clash Movies” endnotes
European Film Academy website.
Birol Ünel and Sibel Kekilli Head-On image: PanFilm | Wüste Filmproduktion.
Alejandro Amenábar, Fatih Akin, Penélope Cruz, and Javier Bardem photos: Alberto Estévez | EFA.
“Culture Clash Movies Top Socially Conscious European Film Awards” last updated in September 2021.