At the 42nd César Awards George Clooney was always going to be political, so the clever media manager and César honoree grabbed our attention in a manner I’ve never seen. Firstly Clooney the romantic brought along his glamorous pregnant French-speaking wife Amal to the proceedings and declared his love for her from the stage. Next he was Clooney the cad with his French mate Jean Dujardin (The Monuments Men) who hilariously re-interpreted Clooney’s comments as he offered a translation. Then Clooney became the political activist and filmmaker as he intertwined comments on President Donald Trump and 1950s journalist Edward R. Morrow, the subject of his 2005 debut film, Good Night, and Good Luck (available at SBS On Demand), who famously spoke out against Senator Joseph McCarthy. (See transcript below.)
Even if the 80-year old did not attend, best foreign film winner Ken Loach dug in the boot as well, decrying the British government for disenfranchising the poor by cutting their benefits in a statement read by the French distributor of his film, I, Daniel Blake, also last year’s Palme d’Or winner. Loach urged French voters to show solidarity in rejecting the far right in the upcoming elections, which take place just before Cannes.
The third political speech of the evening came from journalist and activist turned filmmaker François Ruffin who won the documentary prize for Thanks Boss! Ruffin’s investigative journalism work focuses on the behaviour of multinational companies and his technique of questioning CEO's has likened him to Michael Moore. With Thanks Boss! a local sleeper hit, he takes on the richest man in France, Bernard Arnault, the head of fashion powerhouse LVMH which owns luxury brands including Dior, Celine, Kenzo, Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs. At the ceremony, Ruffin became very passionate about jobs being outsourced to more cost-effective Eastern European countries and it became, well, a little wearing.
The biggest delight of the night by far was watching the usually composed Isabelle Huppert jump for joy (inwardly at least) as she waved around her César for her astounding performance in Paul Verhoeven’s Elle. Over the awards season, the 63 year-old has been surprising everyone with her more excited demeanour, specifically at the New York Film Critics awards and the Golden Globes. She’d previously only won one César for Claude Chabrol’s La Cérémonie (1995) and of course she’s never won an Oscar.
“I’m good every year, but this year you finally noticed,” Huppert told the crowd. She graciously thanked novelist Philippe Djian for the source material as she'd brought his 2012 tome “Oh...” to Franco-Tunisian powerhouse Saïd Ben Saïd to produce.
“I’m good every year, but this year you finally noticed.”
A little later Elle took out the best film César. “To all the women who never accept being victims,” announced co-producer Michel Merkt as he held up the prize.
At this exciting moment, the Cannes Festival jury may have been forgiven for overlooking the film. Certainly Cannes artistic director Thierry Frémaux was smiling like a Cheshire cat whenever the camera headed his way, and that was quite a lot as he was seated alongside Xavier Dolan, the evening’s surprise winner. Not only did the Canadian wunderkind accept the directing and editing prizes for It’s Only the End of the World, his gut-wrenching drama about a successful French playwright who comes home to make amends (which is coming to the French Film Festival), but he accepted the best actor award for the film’s handsome lead Gaspard Ulliel, who was unable to attend. Dolan is preparing to film his English-language debut The Death and Life of John F. Donovan and again it focuses on a very handsome actor, Game of Thrones heartthrob Kit Harrington.
Interestingly another good looker, Niels Schneider, who took out the best new actor César for Dark Diamond, had starred alongside Dolan in the director’s second film Heartbeats. The actor also appears, and dances rather impressively in Polina, which screens in the French Film Festival.
Francois Ozon’s rapturously filmed Frantz took out the cinematography award for Pascal Marti, even if the director missed out as did his actors Pierre Niney, who was nominated for best actor and Paula Beer for best new actress. Niney’s stunning Australian girlfriend, actress and photographer Natasha Andrews was seated alongside him, while not far away amongst the Dolan entourage was Australian fashion designer Martin Grant who last year dressed the mistress of ceremonies Florence Foresti and of course is responsible for the current Qantas uniforms.
The other major award winner was Divines, the story of a street teenager from a dysfunctional family in the Paris banlieue who comes across a young dancer who turns her life upside down. As in Cannes, the film, which is coming to Netflix in Australia, took out the best first film award for director Houda Benyamina, while Oulaya Amamra won for best new actress and Déborah Lukumuena for supporting actress. Omar Sy missed out on best actor for Monsieur Chocolat, the enlightening story of the first black actor of the French stage, though James Thierrée, Charlie Chaplin’s grandson, won the supporting actor prize.
When the late Icelandic-French filmmaker Solveig Anspach, who had been so valiant with her long battle with breast cancer, won the original screenplay César for the wonderfully eccentric The Aquatic Effect, her co-writer Jean-Luc Gaget read out a tribute so that tears welled in the room.
The heart-warming French-Swiss film My Life as a Zucchini took out the best animation César for Claude Barrass and his team, as well as the screenwriting award for Céline Sciamma.
Jean-Paul Belmondo, now 83 and visibly showing the effects of the 2001 stroke that essentially ended his career (though he did star in 2009’s A Man and a Dog) displayed that he had not lost his charm or sense of humour as he received a career tribute from Jean Dujardin and a standing ovation. He thanked his public for the long years of his career.
The outspoken Hollywood star and activist had already been decrying Donald Trump in the media as well as defending 83 year-old Roman Polanski, who in the light of protests from women's groups regarding his fleeing sentencing after pleading guilty to his 1977 rape charge, bowed out from his role as the Cesar’s President. He was not replaced.
In an article in the Hollywood Reporter that is widely circulated in the US, Clooney is quoted as telling Paris Match “Polanski needs to put an end to this story so that it can finally be behind him… I don't know enough about the Polanski affair to talk about it in detail. But what I understand is that he had an agreement with a judge and that the judge didn't respect. I also know that the victim now supports him.” And he concluded: “When you think about all that this 83-year-old man has been through, it's awful to imagine that they're still after him.”
By the time Clooney stood before the cameras as he arrived at the Césars ceremony, he was more chilled out telling the Césars broadcaster Canal Plus, “It’s great to be here between two very beautiful, intelligent women,” referring to his wife (and translator) and the French Minister of Culture the very chic Audrey Azoulay.
Looking completely starstruck, the chicly dressed 44 year-old government minister said that, “French cinema loves George Clooney” and welcomed the star and his spouse.
In fluent French, human rights barrister Amal Clooney said, “It’s great to be here together in Paris for a romantic weekend and it’s an honour and a pleasure to be here at the Césars for the first time.”
The presenter asked Clooney if he understood and he conceded he understood “romantique”.
“Yes, she has taught me this.”
He doesn't need to learn French?
“My wife she speaks perfect French,” he replied and his wife continued to translate leaning across to her husband over the three-hour broadcast that included a lot of French humour and in-jokes.
Visually Amal stole the show in a stunning white clinging gown that enhanced her baby bump (reportedly due in June). Though she was not about to get up on stage when it came to her husband’s tribute.
“My French is horreeble, horreeble,” Clooney noted. “Jean, can you translate for me?” he asked the actor who appeared in his 2014 film Monuments Men.
JD: Oh sure.
The schtick continued.
GC: Thank you to the French Academy and Canal Plus. It’s an honour to be here with Jean Dujardin, a great talent and good friend.
(Dujardin translate adding that he’s very good looking.)
GC: French cinema has held my fascination since I’ve known about French cinema.
JD: I don't know too much about French cinema.
GC: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Godard, Bardot, Isabelle Huppert and my friend Alexandre Desplat, I thank you all.
Dujardin adds himself to the list. “And I thank Jean.”
"We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must not walk in fear of one another. We must not be driven by fear into an age of unreason."
GC: Over the course of my career, I’ve had the great fortune of working with some incredible filmmakers who’ve protected me and they’ve inspired me and they've taught me what an honour it is to work in film.
JD: Hmm. Donald Trump is a danger to the world, and I will do everything to oppose the fear and hate that has settled in.
GC: As we stand here today the world is going through some pretty momentous changes, but not all for the best. As citizens in the world we’re going to have to work very, very hard not to let hate win.
Dujardin translates about hate not winning then adds, “so long as the 2024 Olympics are in Paris and not Los Angeles."
GC: “Love trumps hate.”
JD: “Trump loves hate.”
GC: “Courage trumps fear.”
JD: “Trump is afraid.”
GC: “Right always trumps wrong.”
JD: “Trump is always wrong.”
GC (Goes romantic): “To my wife Amal there’s isn’t a day goes by that I’m not proud to be your husband and I am excited about the years to come and particularly the months to come and I love you very much.
JD: He’s proud of his wife, he loves her and she’s pregnant.”
GC: “Congratulations to all the wonderful work you’ve done this year and I’m grateful for this tremendous honour.
JD: It’s going to be pretty difficult over the next four years but I promise you things are going to change in 2020 when Kanye West is President.”
GC: (Serious now) "I was thinking about Edward R. Murrow as we find ourselves nostalgic for when America was great and when the news wasn’t fake. Maybe his words some 60 years ago can help put things in perspective. We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must not walk in fear of one another. We must not be driven by fear into an age of unreason. If we dig deep in our history and remember that we are not descendants from fearful people, we proclaim ourselves indeed as we are the defenders of freedom wherever it continues to exist in the world. But we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.
The actions of this President have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn’t create this situation of fear, he merely exploited it, and rather successfully.
Cassius was right: ‘The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars but in ourselves’. Good night and good luck. Thank you."