Sunday, April 19, 2009

The French Academy Awards, the Césars

French Cinema in 2008, at the César awards.

My expectations for the 2008 César awards were high. If the French made better films, dressed better and spoke a better language, then surely their Academy Awards would be superior. What’s more I was suffering from cinema depression; a week earlier I had watched the Oscars; grimacing at Hugh Jackman’s song and dance numbers and feigning surprise when "Slumdog Millionaire" slam-dunked a year of mediocre Hollywood. I needed cinema affirmation.
Initially, I thought my expectations were met when 2008 president of the César Awards, Charlotte Gainsbourg, pencil-thin in black glitter with a luscious pout and long disheveled bangs, introduced the ceremony with all the style and elegance of her model mom and rock-star dad. However as soon as the epitome of chic left the stage her foil appeared, Antoine de Caunes, comedian and TV personality, speaking in a high-pitched Muppet voice—you know the French love Jerry Lewis! Unfortunately, though I had survived the Hugh Jackman and Béyoncé butchering of the musical into a Oscar medley the week before, I now found myself watching a budget-cut French version of the same routine; de Caunes cockled “Singin’ in the Rain” with his strangled-chicken voice, while gleefully splashing in puddles of stage-rain.
Why sing a song from an American musical in English at a French film award ceremony? France prides itself on inventing film, n’est-ce pas? Perhaps the answer could be found in the camera constantly panning the American stars Dustin Hoffman and Sean Penn. In fact, as soon as de Caunes took his raincoat off and yelled in English “the musical is back!” he informed the audience that The Sean Penn was present. The audience then applauded even more than they had for his wet chicken song when de Caunes interrupted in English again to say “Yooo air so fucking grrrate man!” Yes, Hollywood and its Oscars were never far away from the César award ceremony, and as Gertrude Stein once said, “An award ceremony is an award ceremony is an award ceremony…”
And is Hollywood far enough away from contemporary French film? French cinema in 2008 was dominated by gender types: the gangster film ("Public Enemy no. 1" and "the Death Instinct") and the fragile female sanity ("Sassarine"). That is to say, the year’s most celebrated films did not break any formal rules and primarily repeated clichés established across the pond. In fact the most original French film of 2008, came from a director of yester-year. Founding New-Wave left-bank director, Agnès Varda, made "Les plages de Agnès" ("The Beaches of Agnès") to celebrate her life, loves, and career at 80 years of age.

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