“Timbuktu” and Sissako the Big Winners at the Césars

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Timely film on Jihadism in Mali Reaps Rewards for Risks

Emotions are still raw in France and this was very much in evidence on Friday night at the Théâtre du Chatelet in Paris. It is, after all, only 6 weeks since the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo offices and Hyper Cacher.

Even before the moment when Mauritanian-born film director Abderrahmane Sissako stepped up to receive the first of his two Cesar awards for his film Timbuktu, the overwhelming feeling of the crowd, the dogs on the street and the Academie des Arts et Techniques du Cinéma was that his brave and fine film on the effects of extremist Islamism in Mali would be duly rewarded.

In all, Timbuktu walked away with 7 Césars, including those of Best Film and Best Director. It also won in the categories of Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Music, Best Sound, Best Photography and Best Editing.

In a soft and level voice, the 51-year-old director paid tribute to his adopted country of France, where he has lived for the past two decades, having spent seven years in Moscow studying film-making.

“This magnificent country,” he said, “which is capable of standing up to horror.” Sissako went on to say that without France, without Arte and without the Cannes Film Festival, “I would not have been able to be the film-maker that I am today… There is no culture shock between civilisations. There is a meeting of civilisations!”

As he spoke, the Théâtre du Chatelet was filled with the music from the film, interpreted by African musicians – a song whose words spoke of hope that a day would come when one can “adore God without killing your neighbour” and about “being spiritual without cultivating hatred.” Beforehand, when the composer Amine Bouhafa received his César for Best Original Music, his tone was also very much political as he dedicated his prize “to the youth who could say No to despotism; the youth of Tunisia.”

For everyone else, it was a long night that went on for almost 4 hours. President over the events of the evening Dany Boon did his best to keep the audience amused but it was a one-sided show with no other film coming close to the achievements of Sissako’s masterful film.

The nearest was Thomas Cailley’s charming “Les Combattants” (trailer with English subtitles below), which walked away with 3 Césars for Best First Film, Best Newcomer (Kevin Azaïs) and Best Actress (Adèle Haenel).

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Best Supporting Actress was given to Kristen Stewart (the first time an American has won the award) for her role in Olivier Assayas’ Alpine-located “Clouds of Sils Maria”.

An interesting duel between the two biopics on Yves Saint Laurent had developed, with both interpreters of the great late fashion designer up for Best Actor. In the end, it was Pierre Niney (in “Yves Saint Laurent”) who was adjudged to have captured the personage of YSL to a more convincing degree than his counterpart in “Saint Laurent” Gaspard Ulliel.

Similarly, the duel for Best Costumes also involved representatives from the same two films, with the César going on this occasion to “Saint Laurent” costume guru Anaïs Romand – interestingly achieved without the assistance of the Fondation Yves Saint Laurent, who only backed Jalil Lespert’s film

Grisly character actor Reda Kateb (who was last seen in “Me, Myself and Mum” – the big winner from last year) was awarded Best Supporting Actor for his role in “Hippocrate”.

Sean Penn was awarded a special honorary César, which he received from the bilingual Marion Cotillard (this year up for both a César and an Oscar).

Throughout the ceremony, although the atmosphere was laden with the spirit of defiance in the face of deadly attacks on artistic freedom from the very recent past, nobody dared to speak of the underlying elephant in the room until illustrator Joann Sfar went up to received his César for Best Animated Film (“Miniscule – La vallée des fourmis perdues”):

“We’re not even sure that we can still work in peace. But we’ll try..”


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