French Oscars turn political over virus shutdown
Changing the rules
Published: Mar 14, 2021 05:43 PM

Stephane Demoustier poses with the Cesar award for best adapted screenplay on Friday. Photo: AFP

Stephane Demoustier poses with the Cesar award for best adapted screenplay on Friday. Photo: AFP

There was a fiercely political air at France's annual celebration of cinema, Les Cesars, on Friday as frustrations were unleashed over the months-long shutdown of theaters. 

The country has seen mounting protests recently over the closure of cultural sites, with several theaters occupied by activists and students.

That frustration was center stage at Friday's awards, with actress Corinne Masiero stripping naked with the words "No culture, no future" written across her front as she presented the costume award.

Others used the stage to confront the government over its decision to keep cinemas shut since October 2020, even as most other businesses have reopened. 

"My children can go to Zara but not the cinema... it's incomprehensible," said Stephane Demoustier as he picked up the Cesar for best screenplay for The Girl With a Bracelet

Also hanging heavy over the ceremony was the memory of 2020's disastrous event, in which the decision to award veteran Polish director Roman Polanski - accused of multiple sexual assaults and the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl - led to stars walking out and police teargassing protesters outside. 

The entire Cesar academy board resigned in the build-up to the 2020 ceremony due to the uproar over Polanski's nominations for his film An Officer and a Spy, which many saw as proof of the French industry's failure to respond to the #MeToo movement. 

2021's first awards signaled that the academy was keen to embrace calls for greater ethnic diversity, with the most promising actor and actress awards going to Jean-Pascal Zadi and Fathia Youssouf. 

Zadi's film, Tout simplement noir, plays on racist cliches about black people in France, while 14-year-old Youssouf won for her part in the controversial Netflix film Mignonnes about teenage girls caught between the pressures of Senegalese society and social media. 

"The rules of the game are changing, not so that the game stops, but so that it can be played fairly this time," said host Roschdy Zem at the start of the evening.

But the big winner of the night was Bye Bye Morons, a comedy drama about a seriously ill woman searching for her long-lost child, which won seven awards including best film and best director for Albert Dupontel.

Elsewhere, the foreign film award went to Danish cult favorite Thomas Vinterberg for Another Round starring Mads Mikkelsen as a binge-drinking highschool teacher. 

There were no major controversies to match Polanski's inclusion in 2020, though some noted that much more work was needed on equality given the presence of only one woman in each of the best film and best director categories. 

Much of the drama in 2021 has been behind the scenes, as the academy scrambled to rebuild itself and its reputation with a new board under Veronique Cayla, former head of cultural channel Arte, and director Eric Toledano.