November, 2012. Damon Wise was double-booked, so he asked me to cover for him at the 2012 European Film Awards in Malta. So I did. Great evening for Michael Haneke. His translator probably remembers it less fondly. Originally published on the Empire Blog, which sadly no longer exists (as of October, 2015). Still accessible via the Wayback Machine, but I’m now also posting the full thing here, just to preserve it.
A bit of context before the ceremony: this year’s European Film Awards are taking place in the beautiful surroundings of Valletta, Malta, following a couple of weeks of quiet (and not so quiet) ructions within Malta’s own modest film establishment. Despite a record year for domestic applications to the Malta Film Fund, it transpires that no visiting productions at all are currently scheduled to shoot in Malta next year. Cue bitter recriminations and accusations of incompetence and financial mismanagement from Film Service Providers Malta – a collection of production service companies responsible for managing most foreign productions filmed in Malta over the last ten years – towards controversial Malta Film Commissioner Peter Busuttil. Finance Minister Tonio Fenech dismissed the spat as a “personality clash,” but it’s a claim angrily denied by FSPM.
So there’s an added frisson in EFA President Wim Wenders’ opening speech, when he praises Malta’s “rich cultural heritage”, and “all the amazing stories engraved” in the island’s limestone. “Your island is no stranger to the film business,” says Wenders. Well, arguably, at the moment…
Aside from ironies and negatives however, the EFAs are a celebration of disparate European identities, whose films are struggling to survive in the face of continued American screen dominance. European cinema’s very survival is the constant theme of the evening. “Our 25th awards ceremony is taking place at a crucial time,” Wenders continues. “Europe is in a deep economic crisis, and probably more threatening, in a crisis of identity. We have a lot to offer in that calamity. Film is the best medicine and the ideal language to help rebuild identity. We need a European cinema if we want to build a Europe to believe in. Our common film culture is full of different flavours and colours, and you’ll see that diversity tonight. Our cinema can feed the European soul. It already is its very foundation. Europe is more than its economy, for crying out loud. We can own and convey the European dream.”
There was also a really nice line about pronouncing “European” like “Utopian” as a way to nurture hope. A tough act for Fenech to follow then. “Hearing your speech, I’m indeed the one killing Europe,” he growled.
The ceremony, as often before, is presented by German comedienne Anke Engelke. “This is the 25th European Film Awards, or as they call it in America, The What?” she half-jokes. “We’re going to bridge the gap between Hollywood mainstream and European depression.” That’s a gap the EFAs have tended to struggle with. In 2009, when Michael Haneke’s chilly The White Ribbon swept the board over and above the more populist likes of Un Prophet and Let the Right One In, the feeling was perhaps that the EFAs weren’t doing themselves many favours in terms of winning over more mainstream audiences. But then when, bizarrely, everything went to Roman Polanski’s The Ghost the following year, eyebrows were raised for the opposite reason. 2011’s spread was more eclectic, although Melancholia came out top with three awards. This year, populist votes might have gone to Rust and Bone (nominated for precisely nothing) or Untouchable, but 2012 once again, is a Haneke-fest, with the top gongs all going to the beautiful and heartbreaking Amour.
The lead-up to the big winners begins with a special award for European Co-Production for Swedish producer Helena Danielsson. Romanian director Tudor Giurgiu than picks up the gong for European Film Academy Short Film, for Superman, Spider-Man or Batman. “We have great filmmaking talents in Romania but our support systems are weak. I hope we can be better,” he says in acceptance.
The winner for European Animated Feature Film is the Czech/German/Slovak co-production Alois Nebel. Directed by Tomas Lunak, who looks overwhelmed but manages a quick thank you (Peter Lord, present and nominated for The Pirates In An Adventure With Scientists, looks as jolly as always and not a jot resentful).
The European Discovery Award goes to Kauwboy. Director Boudewijn Koole says, “This is only a small statue but its power is enormous. It’s telling me to keep following my dream, and I’ll listen. I heard Michael Haneke made his first film at 47 as well. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s a great inspiration!” Kauwboy also won the Young Audience Award, voted for by 700 young ‘jurors’. “Now delete Kauwboy from your cellphones and go to bed!” says Engelke.
The European Screenwriter award goes to Thomas Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm for The Hunt: sadly the only prize the film leaves with this evening. Lindholm isn’t present, but Vinterberg talks about being a great fan of Wenders, and thanks him for creating the awards. He also thanks Lindholm and Mads Mikkelsen, and says he was up for an award in Berlin twenty years ago and didn’t win his promised two hours with Wim. He offers to do it now and pay for the dinner.
European Documentary goes to the Swiss Hiver Nomade, directed by Manuel von Sturler. “There are a lot of sheep in my film,” he says, “and it was big anguish because maybe the public would start to count them. Now I’m happy! I thank all the crew and dedicate the prize to Pascal the Shepherd who’s now on a new journey.”
This year’s European Achievement in World Cinema award goes to Helen Mirren. Michael Gambon presents the statue – “We were in The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, a film for children, and she killed me in it.” – and the subsequent retrospective montage of Mirren’s career gets a standing ovation. “Thank you for the great honour of recognising that I’m a fucking whore and very proud of it,” says Dame Helen (quoting Joyce Carol Oates via Jeanne Moreau, more or less). “One afternoon when I was a teenager I went into a cinema to get out of the rain. It was one of those cinemas that showed art movies as well as porn movies. It smelled of urine and tobacco, and on the screen was Antonioni’s L’Avventura, and it was an amazing moment that transformed the landscape of what was possible in film for me. [Tearing up a bit] I can’t tell you how much this means to me. It’s the other end of the journey that began in that smelly little cinema.” Telling ya: not a dry eye in the house.
There’s a muted response to the European Cinematographer award going to Sean Bobbit for Shame, up against immensely tough competition from Faust and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. “I had prepared a speech which was very short and witty and I’ve completely forgotten it,” Bobbit says. “We had an American crew, and I think by the end they’d realised there’s more than one way of making a film. We introduced them to a brave and innovative European tradition.”
Shame also wins European Editor for Joe Walker. He’s not here, but sends a speech saying, “It’s a particular honour to receive this award, because unlike many of the British, I’ve always wanted to be considered European.”
There are similar sentiments from Alberto Iglesias, who gets crowned European Composer for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. “I write to you from Spain,” he says. “These are difficult times for cinema. We need more than ever to be European. And we share the same dream as you to build a completely engaged European cinema.”
Mads Mikkelsen presents the European Director award, which involves some fun stuff with Anke where she gets him to translate some lines into Danish, including “I’m nominated twice because I’m in every fucking Danish movie ever made.” Haneke’s Amour winning streak begins here, in trademark curmudgeonly style. Speaking through a translator, he says he wants to speak in German to preserve his identity, in the context of the EFA’s mission to preserve and celebrate European diversity. He then complains about the translation, speaks for ages again in German so that the translator can’t get a word in or keep up, and then stalks off the stage leaving her to face the audience alone. He thanked his wife and cast and producers.
Rather more endearing is Maria Dukovich, who wins European Production Designer for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: “Bloody hell, this is amazing!” There’s also quite a sweet moment when, accepting the European People’s Choice Award for Come As You Are, director Geoffrey Enthoven proposes to his other half (she says yes), but there are dark mutterings at the after party that this was a very Hollywood thing to do and not appropriate for the occasion… Polish actor Maciej Stuhr, presenting the next award, proposes to Mads Mikkelsen. Mads declines.
There’s no argument with the winners of European Actor and European Actress: the statues go to Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva for Amour. Neither is present – Trintignant because of theatre commitments, and Riva through illness, but both send acceptance speeches. Trintignant’s is a recorded piece to camera, thanking the EFA, the crew, and his wife, while producer Margaret Menegoz reads a statement from Riva: “It’s rare an author writes such a great part for an actress my age. It was a marvellous present from Michael Haneke to me, and I’m proud to have got it right.”
Wim Wenders and his EFA co-founder Marisa Paredes present the European Film Academy Lifetime Achievement Award to Bernardo Bertolucci, “the European independent filmmaker par excellence,” who gets the second standing ovation of the night. “Life is too short,” says El Maestro. “I could also say it’s too long. 25 years ago I was on stage for the first EFA awards. I think I won for The Last Emperor. Next to me was the most beautiful man I ever met, Ingmar Bergman. I almost fainted. Together with the fact that I won an award, it was incredible to be next to that man. I don’t want to talk about my life, but long life to European Cinema, and thanks a lot to the academy and Wim and Marisa, and to Malta.” In reference to his being in a wheelchair, he finished with, “Maybe this is the beginning to Untouchable 2!”
Which leaves only the small matter of the European Film award, which again goes to Haneke and Amour. With three wins, Haneke now holds the EFA record, tied with Lars Von Trier. He speaks in English this time. “I can just repeat thank you again to all the people who helped me,” he says. “I never thought I would win again so quickly.” It’s unclear whether that refers to his wins of three years or half an hour ago. And that seems appropriately enigmatic.
THE AWARDS IN FULL
European Film 2012: Amour (Michael Haneke)
European Director 2012: Michael Haneke (Amour)
European Actress 2012: Emmanuelle Riva (Amour)
European Actor 2012: Jean-Louis Trintignant (Amour)
European Screenwriter 2012: Tobias Lindholm & Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt)
Carlo Di Palma European Cinematographer Award 2012: Sean Bobbitt (Shame)
European Editor 2012: Joe Walker (Shame)
European Production Designer 2012: Maria Djurkovic (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)
European Composer 2012: Alberto Iglesias (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)
European Discovery 2012 (Prix FIPRESCI): Kauwboy (Boudewijn Koole)
EFA Documentary 2012: Hiver Nomade (Manuel von Sturler)
EFA Animated Feature Film 2012: Alois Nebel (Tomas Lunak)
EFA Short Film 2012: Superman, Spider-Man or Batman (Tudor Giurgiu)
European Co-Production Award 2012 (Prix Eurimages): Helena Danielsson (producer)
EFA Lifetime Achievement Award: Bernardo Bertolucci (director)
European Achievement In World Cinema 2012: Dame Helen Mirren (actor)
People’s Choice Award 2012: Hasta La Vista (Geoffrey Enthoven)