The Favourite, Yorgos Lanthimos’s scabrous depiction of the power struggle surrounding Queen Anne in the early 18th century, has swept the board at this year’s European film awards.
As well as best film, best director and best European comedy, the UK-Irish-US co-production also won best actress for Olivia Colman to add to her Oscar for the film. Neither Colman nor Lanthimos were present to pick up their awards in Berlin, where this year’s ceremony was held.
It was left to the veteran film-maker Werner Herzog, accepting a lifetime achievement award, to fly a flag for European values; rather strangely for an event, in its 32nd edition in 2019, that has been highly vocal in recent years in its opposition to the tide of rising populism and nationalism on the continent.
“Europe is a peace project that is practised and that is functioning,” Herzog told the audience, in virtually the only grand political statement of the evening. “It is the biggest peace project the world has ever seen, so we should be rather glad for that.”
The rest of the presenters and winners offered little in the way of suggestions for the sense of despair creeping into world affairs. Instead, the tone of a ceremony surveying, in the words of its presenters, “another absurd year in an absurd world”, was dominated by an almost aggressive zaniness that was perhaps a form of overcompensation for the sense of exhaustion in the European project.
Award-winners were presented their trophies by inflatable T rexes and fun-runners; at one point, Claes Bang read out the nominees for best actor in an inexplicable arch-cockney accent while draped over a bed footboard.
Receiving the European achievement in world cinema award, Juliette Binoche was an exception to this general hysteria. In a simple, touching speech in which she questioned how appropriate it was to have awards ceremonies in such circumstances, she stressed the healing power of art in difficult times: “The world is not going well. But it feels like art is becoming more and more important. I think we have to be more truthful, more loving, better listeners.” She also thanked her children’s nannies.
The European Film Academy was spared potential embarrassment after An Officer and a Spy, Roman Polanski’s period thriller about the Dreyfus affair, went away empty-handed.
There had been calls from some French film industry professionals for its five nominations to be rescinded following the allegation by the French-Polish photographer Valentine Monnier that the director raped her at his Swiss chalet in 1975. Polanski denies the allegation.
Elsewhere, Antonio Banderas won best actor for his portrayal of an ailing director looking to his childhood for inspiration in Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory. Céline Sciamma, who won best screenwriter for the ravishing lesbian period drama A Portrait of a Lady on Fire, was trapped in France by the general strike and was unable to pick up her award. For Sama, a riveting mum’s eye view on the siege of Aleppo by Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts, took best documentary.