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EFA: Best European Film Honors Another Controversial Filmmaker

Melancholia Kirsten Dunst: 3rd Lars von Trier EFA Award winner despite ugly controversy
Melancholia with Kirsten Dunst. The European Film Academy (EFA) Awards’ Best Film winner, Melancholia tells the story of two sisters (Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg) as one of them is about to get married and a fast-approaching small planet is about to collide with the Earth. Melancholia became the third Lars von Trier film to win EFA’s top award, following Breaking the Waves (1996) and Dancer in the Dark (2000) – this despite the fact that the filmmaker became embroiled in a nasty controversy after making jokes about Jews and Adolf Hitler at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Von Trier himself has taken home one Best European Director award, for Dogville in 2003.

‘Melancholia’ tops EFA Awards: Work by a controversial filmmaker gets top prize for second year in a row

Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

Lars von Trier may have made some new enemies at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, but he surely still has a number of friends and admirers at the European Film Academy (EFA). Von Trier’s apocalyptic family drama Melancholia, starring Best Actress EFA nominees Kirsten Dunst (an American who recently acquired German citizenship) and Charlotte Gainsbourg, was named Best European Film at the 2011 EFA Awards, held in Berlin on Dec. 3.

“I don’t have a message from Lars for you because he has stopped making public statements,” said one of the Melancholia producers while accepting the award. “I can’t imagine why.”

Von Trier’s “I feel for Hitler” joke at a press conference in Cannes was perceived as anti-Semitic by some. As a result, the director was officially banned from the festival. Danish police, on behalf of French authorities, later questioned him as well.

Besides its Best European Film victory, Melancholia also topped the Best European Cinematographer (Manuel Alberto Claro) and Best European Production Designer (Jette Lehmann) categories.

See further below the full list of this year’s EFA Award winners and nominations.

Critical favorite

A Best Film runner-up at the New York Film Critics Circle Awards, Lars von Trier’s latest has little chance of creating much Oscar buzz. Reviews, however, have been generally quite positive. Melancholia has an 80 percent approval rating and 7.2 average among Rotten Tomatoes‘ top critics.

In addition to Cannes Best Actress winner Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg, Melancholia features Alexander Skarsgård, Kiefer Sutherland, Charlotte Rampling, John Hurt, Cameron Spurr, Jesper Christensen, Stellan Skarsgård, Brady Corbet, and Udo Kier.

Roman Polanski replay

Melancholia‘s Best European Film predecessor was the political thriller The Ghost Writer, a commercial disappointment directed by another controversial filmmaker, Roman Polanski.

At the request of U.S. authorities, the Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown filmmaker was arrested on three-decade-old rape charges in September 2009 in Zurich, where he was held in jail for two months before being placed under house arrest at his chalet in Gstaad. Swiss authorities declared Polanski a free man in July 2010.

Like Lars von Trier, Polanski was also absent from the EFA Awards ceremony, held in Tallinn, Estonia.

EFA’s yesteryear hits: In a Better World & The King’s Speech

The European Film Academy’s admiration for Lars von Trier stopped short of a Best European Director award. Unlike Roman Polanski, von Trier lost the Best Director trophy to fellow Dane Susanne Bier for In a Better World / Hævnen.

But wait … Wasn’t In a Better World in competition last year? Nope. You’re thinking of the Academy Awards.

Due to its funky release schedule rules, the EFA Awards are oftentimes behind the Oscars. Earlier this year, In a Better World was named the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner.

Also earlier this year, Colin Firth was the Best Actor Oscar winner for his performance as the stuttering King George V in Tom Hooper’s highly fictionalized feel-good biopic The King’s Speech.

Jean Dujardin seemed poised to take home the 2011 Best Actor EFA Award for Michel Hazanavicius’ silent comedy-drama The Artist – one of the most talked-about films and performances this awards season – but that didn’t happen, as enough EFA members opted instead for Hooper’s year-old hit in the Best European Actor and Best European Editor (Tariq Anwar) categories.

And so did enough European moviegoers, as The King’s Speech nabbed the People’s Choice Award.

Colin Firth, unsurprisingly, wasn’t around to pick up his EFA statuette. Four years ago, fellow royal British performer Helen Mirren, named Best European Actress for The Queen nearly a year after her Oscar win, was also absent from the European Film Awards ceremony.

We Need to Talk About Kevin Tilda Swinton Rock Duer: Mother of mass murdererWe Need to Talk About Kevin with Tilda Swinton and Rock Duer. Directed by Lynne Ramsay, who also adapted – with Rory Stewart Kinnear – Lionel Shriver’s 2003 novel, We Need to Talk About Kevin stars Tilda Swinton as the mother of a high-school mass murderer. A former travel writer, the woman spends her days attempting to reconstruct her life with her son. Ezra Miller plays the demented teenager; Rock Duer (pictured) and Jasper Newell are his younger, pre-mass-murder selves. John C. Reilly is the dad who provides his son with the mass murder weapon.

Best Actress Tilda Swinton as mother of mass murderer

In addition to Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, did any new European movies win any EFA Awards? However surprising, the answer is Yes.

Tilda Swinton, whose We Need to Talk About Kevin was screened at the Cannes Film Festival, was the Best Actress winner. (As mentioned above, Kirsten Dunst was the Cannes jury’s pick for Melancholia.)

Directed by Lynne Ramsay, We Need to Talk About Kevin stars Swinton as the mother of a youthful mass murderer. Just like fellow Britisher Colin Firth, Swinton was absent from the ceremony.

Clearly with an eye on the Academy Awards, We Need to Talk About Kevin opens in Los Angeles and New York City on Dec. 9.

Oscar favorite ‘The Artist’ takes home one single EFA Award

The Artist, a favorite for the 2012 Oscars, won a single EFA Award: for Best European Composer Ludovic Bource, who thanked the film’s perky dog, Uggie, for providing the necessary inspiration.

Writer-director Michel Hazanavicius and actress Bérénice Bejo weren’t even nominated, while star Jean Dujardin, as pointed out above, lost to Colin Firth.

Among the other EFA 2011 winners were:

  • Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s screenplay for the Belgian-French-Italian co-production The Kid with a Bike / Le gamin au vélo, in which a working-class 12-year-old boy (Thomas Doret), after having been abandoned by his father, becomes the foster child of a hairdresser (Cécile de France).
  • Wim Wenders’ documentary Pina, Germany’s submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.
  • Tono Errando, Javier Mariscal, and Fernando Trueba’s bolero-rhythmed animated feature and potential Oscar contender Chico & Rita.
  • Terry Gilliam’s short The Wholly Family, about an American family visiting Naples.
  • Hans Van Nuffel’s Dutch-Belgian drama Oxygen / Adem, the European Discovery of 2011. Oxygen tells the story of cystic fibrosis-suffering young men dealing with encroaching death.
Stephen Frears EFA Lifetime Achievement Award: From edgy to carefully sanitized filmsStephen Frears. EFA’s Lifetime Achievement Award went to British filmmaker Stephen Frears, whose credits range from (relatively speaking) edgy films in his early years to crowd-pleasing, carefully sanitized early 21st-century fare. Among the edgier Frears efforts are The Hit (1984), My Beautiful Laundrette (1985), Prick Up Your Ears (1987), the Oscar-nominated Dangerous Liaisons (1988), and Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1988). His more recent, more conventional movies include Dirty Pretty Things (2000), Mrs. Henderson Presents (2005), and the Oscar-nominated The Queen (2006).

EFA honorees Stephen Frears & Mads Mikkelsen

Non-competitive EFA awards went to the following:

  • European Achievement in World Cinema recipient Mads Mikkelsen, whose international acting credits in the last few years include After the Wedding, Casino Royale, and Clash of the Titans.
  • Prix Eurimages (European Co-Production Award) recipient Mariela Besuievsky, whose producing credits include Burnt Money (Argentina / France / Spain / Uruguay), The Secret in Their Eyes (Argentina / Spain), and The Oxford Murders (France / Spain / U.K.).
  • Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Stephen Frears, whose directorial credits include My Beautiful Laundrette, Prick Up Your Ears, Dangerous Liaisons, Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, The Grifters, and The Queen.

“I’m not an auteur and I make cheerful films because I can’t stand the misery anymore,” declared the 70-year-old Frears during his acceptance speech. “I’m just a bloke who makes films and hopes the audience likes them. And I’ll try to do better next time.”

Examples of the early, “misery-depicting” Stephen Frears include My Beautiful Laundrette (1985), featuring a gay punk (Daniel Day-Lewis) enjoying a secret relationship with an Anglo-Pakistani (Gordon Warnecke); Prick Up Your Ears (1987), about subversive playwright Joe Orton (Gary Oldman), ever ready for a little public bathroom orgy and the victim of a brutal murder; and Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1987), with Sammy (Ayub Khan-Din) and Rosie (Frances Barber) having sex while Margaret Thatcher’s London burns – the title itself was deemed so outré that many U.S. news publications refused to feature (all of) it in the film’s ads.

To date, Frears has been nominated for only one Best European Director award, for The Queen. At the Oscars, he has been shortlisted twice, for both The Queen and The Grifters (1990).

Surprise Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Michel Piccoli

And finally, Best Actor nominee Michel Piccoli (We Have a Pope / Habemus Papam) was handed an impromptu Lifetime Achievement Award by Bruno Ganz and Volker Schlöndorff. The 85-year-old French actor’s career spans more than six decades and close to 200 movie appearances.

Besides We Have a Pope actor-director Nanni Moretti, among the filmmakers and actors with whom Piccoli has worked are: Catherine Deneuve, Romy Schneider, Luis Buñuel, Jacques Demy, Louis Malle, Ettore Scola, Jacques Rivette, Claude Sautet, Jane Birkin, Mylène Demongeot, Marco Ferreri, Marcello Mastroianni, Manoel de Oliveira, Youssef Chahine, Jean-Luc Godard, Yves Montand, and Brigitte Bardot.

Reports vary as to who received the loudest applause at the ceremony: Stephen Frears or Michel Piccoli. The latter will be turning 86 next Dec. 27.

See below the full list of EFA winners and nominations.

EFA Awards: Winners & nominations

Best European Film
The Artist.
In a Better World.
The Kid with a Bike.
The King’s Speech.
Le Havre.
* Melancholia.

Best European Actor
Jean Dujardin, The Artist.
* Colin Firth, The King’s Speech.
Mikael Persbrandt, In a Better World.
Michel Piccoli, We Have a Pope.
André Wilms, Le Havre.

Best European Actress
Cécile De France, The Kid with a Bike.
Kirsten Dunst, Melancholia.
Charlotte Gainsbourg, Melancholia.
Nadezhda Markina, Elena.
* Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin.

Best European Director
* Susanne Bier, In a Better World.
Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, The Kid with a Bike.
Aki Kaurismäki, Le Havre.
Béla Tarr, The Turin Horse.
Lars von Trier, Melancholia.

Best European Screenwriter
* Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, The Kid with a Bike.
Anders Thomas Jensen, In a Better World.
Aki Kaurismäki, Le Havre.
Lars von Trier, Melancholia.

Carlo di Palma Award for Best European Cinematographer
* Manuel Alberto Claro, Melancholia.
Fred Kelemen, The Turin Horse.
Guillaume Schiffman, The Artist.
Adam Sikora, Essential Killing.

Best European Editor
* Tariq Anwar, The King’s Speech.
Mathilde Bonnefoy, 3.
Molly Marlene Stensgaard, Melancholia.

Best European Composer
* Ludovic Bource, The Artist.
Alexandre Desplat, The King’s Speech.
Alberto Iglesias, The Skin I Live In.
Mihály Vig, The Turin Horse.

Best European Production Designer
Paola Bizzarri, We Have a Pope.
Antxón Gómez, The Skin I Live In.
* Jette Lehmann, Melancholia.

Best European Documentary
* Pina, dir.: Wim Wenders.
Position Among the Stars, dir.: Leonard Retel Helmrich.
¡Vivan las antípodas!, dir: Victor Kossakovsky.

Best European Animated Feature Film
A Cat in Paris.
* Chico & Rita.
The Rabbi’s Cat.

European Discovery of the Year
Breathing, dir.: Karl Markovics.
Michael, dir.: Markus Schleinzer.
Nothing’s All Bad, dir.: Mikkel Munch-Fals.
* Oxygen, dir.: Hans Van Nuffel.
Tilva Rosh, dir.: Nikola Lezaic.

Outstanding European Achievement in World Cinema
Mads Mikkelsen.

Prix Eurimages
Mariela Besuievsky.

Honorary Award
Michel Piccoli.

Lifetime Achievement Award
Stephen Frears

Best European Short Film (selected from various European film festivals)
Berik, dir.: Daniel Borgman.
Derby, dir.: Paul Negoescu.
La gran carrera, dir.: Kote Camacho.
Hypercrisis, dir.: Josef Dabernig.
Incident by a Bank, dir.: Ruben Östlund.
Jessi, dir.: Mariejosephin Schneider.
Little Children, Big Words, dir.: Lisa James Larsson.
Paparazzi, dir.: Piotr Bernas.
Opowiesci z chlodni, dir.: Grzegorz Jaroszuk.
Out, dir.: Roee Rosen.
Silent River, dir.: Anca Miruna Lazarescu.
Sundays, dir.: Valéry Rosier.
The Unliving, dir.: Hugo Lilja.
* The Wholly Family, dir.: Terry Gilliam.
The Wolves, dir.: Alberto De Michele.

Audience Award
Animals United, dir.: Reinhard Klooss & Holger Tappe.
Even the Rain, dir.: Icíar Bollaín.
In a Better World, dir.: Susanne Bier.
* The King’s Speech, dir.: Tom Hooper.
Little White Lies, dir.: Guillaume Canet.
Potiche, dir.: François Ozon.
Unknown, dir.: Jaume Collet-Serra.
Welcome to the South, dir.: Luca Miniero.

European Film Award (EFA) winners’ quotes via The Hollywood Reporter.

Kirsten Dunst Melancholia image: Christian Geisnaes / Magnolia Pictures.

Stephen Frears photo: Sophia Baker / European Film Academy.

Rock Duer and Tilda Swinton We Need to Talk About Kevin image: BBC Films.

“EFA Best European Film Honors Another Controversial Filmmaker” last updated in July 2018.

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