Italian Oscar entry 'The Great Beauty' wins big at European Film Awards

Posted by · 12:45 pm · December 7th, 2013

As I anticipated, “The Great Beauty,” Paolo Sorrentino’s visually extravagant, Fellini-referencing reflection on contemporary Rome, emerged the big winner at tonight’s European Film Awards in Berlin, taking four prizes for European Film of the Year, European Director of the Year, European Actor of the Year for Toni Servillo and European Editor of the Year for Cristiano Travaglioli. The film, a critics’ pet since Cannes, is Italy’s entry for the foreign-language Oscar; and this haul lends a handy boost to its campaign across the pond.

The one award “Beauty” managed to lose was European Screenwriter of the Year, which went — rightly, in my opinion — to Francois Ozon for his tangled black comedy “In the House.” Belgium’s Veerle Baetens was a deserving but unsurprising Best Actress winner for “The Broken Circle Breakdown.” (Surprises were few to none; all but one of my predictions panned out, and that sort of thing never happens.) 

You can read how the evening — which included typically spaced-out hosting for German comedienne Anke Engelke, and a musical number by Carice Van Houten (!) — panned out in my live blog below.

European Composer of the Year
Ennio Morricone, “The Best Offer”

We’re beginning with one of the previously announced technical winners — I kind of miss having nominees in these categories, as they often came in from left field. Anyway, Volker Schlondorff presents to the 85-year-old Italian legend for his latest collaboration with Giuseppe Tornatore. I haven’t seen the film, and am told the score is much as you’d expect, but… hey, it’s Morricone. I think most would agree that he can’t be overrewarded — unless you’re the Academy, of course.

European Achievement in World Cinema
Pedro Almodovar

Noomi Rapace begins the presentation, which throws a lot of people in the press room — Almodovar loves actresses, sure, but what’s the connection here? Then she throws to the “I’m So Excited!” ensemble, who do a bit of a routine, complete with acapella Pointer Sisters, which makes a bit more sense. Almodovar’s speech is lengthy — it’s the first one he’s prepared, he says — and unexpectedly political, with a pointed rejoinder to Spain’s negligent Ministry of Culture. Good stuff, if not typically Pedro. (He could be up on stage later for Best European Comedy — maybe he’s saving the zaniness for then.)

European Discovery Award
Jan Ole Gerster, “Oh Boy!”

As predicted, the only Film of the Year nominee in the field triumphed in this category for debut filmmakers. Still, Gerster certainly doesn’t look prepared: “The first two winners tonight are Ennio Morricone and Pedro Almodovar, and I’m number three,” he says, looking flustered. “That’s normal.”  Anyway, I’m pleased for the young German: it’s an appealing little film — kind of a Euro male “Frances Ha,” if that makes sense — and was kind of slighted by Germany’s Oscar selection committee.

European Short Film
Tom van Avermaet, “Death of a Shadow”

This stylish Belgian steampunk fantasy, starring Matthias Schoenaerts, was nominated for the Oscar earlier this year — I thought it should have won. It didn’t, but this should come as some consolation.

European Comedy of the Year
“Love is All You Need,” Susanne Bier

Who would be your first choice to present the EFA’s inaugural comedy award? Wow, I was totally thinking of Berlinale artistic director Dieter Kosslick too. Great minds. Anyway, it’s an ironically appropriate choice, since the winner — Susanne Bier’s cancer romp, otherwise known as “Mamma Mia Without the Songs” — isn’t all that funny either. Still, it’s better than “I’m So Excited.” Bier isn’t present; Trine Dyrholm, whose performance is the film’s strongest element, accepts for her.

European Documentary of the Year
“The Act of Killing,” Joshua Oppenheimer

Well, of course. This isn’t the first award Oppenheimer has won for his daring reflection on Indonesian genocide, and it certainly won’t be the last. This critics ‘favorite made the Academy’s 15-film documentary shortlist earlier this week, and there will be uproar if it isn’t nominated. Still, it’s not exactly that branch’s usual bag. Agnieszka Holland presents to a visibly moved Oppenheimer, who pays tribute to his Indonesian crew and thanks his husband.

European Animated Film of the Year
“The Congress,” Ari Folman

No surprise there — Folman is a major name, and this live-action/animation hybrid, starring a fierce Robin Wright as a Hollywood actress who has herself digitally cloned for work purposes, is a divisive but thrillingly delirious creative achievement. (Check out my Cannes review here.) I wonder if the Academy will deem it eligible for next year’s animated Oscar — the category would be a lot more interesting with it around.

European Co-Production Award – Prix Eurimages
Ada Solomon

Rossy De Palma presents this honorary award to the Romanian producer Ada Solomon, whose credits include Calin Peter Netzer’s “Child’s Pose” — which, while we’re on it, deserves to be up for a lot more than just Best Actress. She opens her speech with a Nelson Mandela quote — “It always seems impossible until it’s done” — which goes down understandably well in the room. 

European Actress of the Year
Veerle Baetens, “The Broken Circle Breakdown”

With Adele Exarchopoulos out of the running, the Belgian musician-actress was always the one to beat here — and in a fair world, she’d be in the thick of the Oscar race too. It’s a devastating, last-nerve performance that rarely hits quite the emotional keys you expect for a terminal disease drama. Christopher Lambert presents; a frizzy-permed Baetens begins by thanking her own character, and ends with an impassioned plea for a united Belgium, insisting to Flanders and Wallonia that they belong together.

European Actor of the Year
Toni Servillo, “The Great Beauty”

Does a big night for Paolo Sorrentino’s bittersweet valentine to Roman decadence begin here? I think it might. Not a surprising win, and not a hugely exciting one — Servillo’s been here before, winning jointly for “Il Divo” and “Gomorrah” in 2008, and gives the shortest speech of the night. Diane Kruger presents in a bejewelled, seafoam-colored dress that Liberace might have deemed a little much.

European Costume Designer of the Year
Paco Delgado, “Blancanieves”

European Production Designer of the Year
Sarah Greenwood, “Anna Karenina”

European Sound Designer of the Year
Matz Muller and Erik Mischijew, “Paradise: Faith”

European Cinematographer of the Year
Asaf Sudry, “Fill the Void”

European Editor of the Year
Cristiano Travaglioli, “The Great Beauty”

These technical winners, all previously announced, are presented in a single continuous sequence — easy enough to do with no nominees to read. I guess Morricone is of sufficient stature to merit a separate presentation. Anyway, they’re largely fresh, thought-provoking choices, which is how I like my technical winners: I’ll be looking out for the sound design next time I see “Paradise: Faith,” for example. I’m particularly down with the cinematography win for Sudry’s striking, story-assisting games with shallow focus in “Fill the Void.” And I’m pleased for Greenwood, whom I still think deserved the Oscar earlier this year.

European Screenwriter of the Year
Francois Ozon, “In the House”

Finally, some awards love for my #3 film of last year. And a more appropriate category it could not win: Ozon’s ingenious black comedy is all about the construction and manipulation of narrative. This win, coupled with nominations for Best Director and Actor, points to a lot of love for “In the House” with the EFA, even if it missed the Best Film category. Ozon’s speech is humorously brief for a man being rewarded for his words: he thanks the writer of the film’s source play, and beats a hasty retreat. 

European Director of the Year
Paolo Sorrentino, “The Great Beauty”

Well, everything’s going according to plan so far. Sorrentino, currently on jury duty alongside Martin Scorsese in Marrakech, isn’t here to accept, so let’s talk instead about presenter Kristin Scott Thomas, who’s an absolute riot reading the nominees with comically exaggerated elocution, diligently guttural Germanic consonants, and a faux-modest shout-out to herself in “In the House.” Kristin Scott Thomas to present the Oscars in 2014? We may as well. Anyway, Best Film seems in the bag for Sorrentino at this point, but first there’s Catherine Deneuve to celebrate. And the lady will not be celebrated quickly.

European Lifetime Achievement Award
Catherine Deneuve

EFA president Wim Wenders begins the presentation with a heartfelt and plainly besotted tribute, before segueing into an endearingly loopy interpretive dance with umbrellas — in honor of “Cherbourg,” obviously — that’s over before it’s even begun. Regal in leopard print, Deneuve is not a great enough actress to mask her nervous ‘WTF’ grimace. When she finally takes the stage, her speech is short, gracious and unexpectedly shy — she says she originally asked Wenders if she could receive the award without having to go on stage. I’m not sure how you say no to La Deneuve, but he obviously did. Anyway, not an award anyone can argue with: her filmography is jaw-dropping, and she continues to make challenging choices. Where’s her honorary Oscar?

European Film of the Year
“The Great Beauty,” Paolo Sorrentino

Again, as predicted. The EFAs have thrown up any surprises tonight, and they weren’t to to begin with the last award of the night — with its hefty homage to Fellini and direct engagement with contemporary Italian society, culture and politics, Sorrentino’s film is such an ostentatiously European work that it always looked the one to beat here. (I admit that, for all its visual and sonic flash and dazzle, it left me pretty cold, but I’m in the critical minority.) Interesting that Sorrentino left Cannes empty-handed while “Blue is the Warmest Color” reigned supreme; now, the tables are turned. “The Great Beauty” is Italy’s Oscar submission — I’m still skeptical that it’ll tickle the branch’s fancy, but the executive committee may be more moved.

And with that, it’s on to the after-party. Thanks for reading — if indeed you were — and go rent “In the House” if you haven’t already.

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