Abderrahmane Sissako made film history at the 40th ceremony of the César Awards, the French equivalent of the Oscars, as he becomes the first Mauritanian filmmaker to take home the most coveted prizes of the evening for his film Timbuktu, also nominated for an Oscar. Hosted by French actor Eduard Baer at the glorious Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, the night was long. And predictable.
Within the first hour, Timbuktu had already set the tone for the evening by scooping up three awards: Best Photography, Best Sound and Best Original Soundtrack. A French critics’ favorite at the Cannes Film Festival in 2014, where it competed in the official selection, Sissako’s film continues to impact spectators and critics alike because it mirrors current affairs, namely jhadism and the threat of terrorism.
By the end of the (did I say long?) evening, Timbuktu had picked up four other trophies, including Best Screenplay (co-written with his wife Kessen Tall), Best Editing, Best Film and Best Director, the first for an African filmmaker. Yet he was aware of his screenplay’s weaknesses in its early stages, he said after picking up the award. Sissako’s acceptance speeches were frustratingly long, however – as long as the film itself, some joked. It proved to be a long evening of endless diatribes by the winners and bad jokes by the presenters. But the ceremony was also marked by discreet references to the Charlie Hebdo tragedy, especially by graphic novelist and filmmaker Joann Sfar as he presented the award for Best Animated Feature.
Thomas Cailley’s first film, Les Combattants, also won big, picking up the César for Best Actress (Adèle Haenel), Breakthrough Actor (Kévin Azaïs) and Best Directorial Debut.
Cannes Jury Prize winner Mommy, directed by Xavier Dolan, took home the Best Foreign Film trophy, beating 12 Years A Slave, Boyhood, Two Days, One Night, Archipel 35, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Winter Sleep. Wim Wenders won his very first César for his Oscar-nominated documentary The Salt of the Earth, co-directed with Juliano Ribeiro Salgado. It also picked up two awards last year in Cannes.
And Twilight’s Bella made a historic win… and more. Rapper-turned-acclaimed actor Joey Starr, notorious for his temperamental behavior back in the day, met his match in the form of Kristen Stewart. When the actress asked him to set down her Best Supporting Actress César (for Sils Maria, directed by Olivier Assayas) because her hands were “moist”, Starr’s bewildered expression was funnier than most of the evening’s jokes. Stewart’s win is historic as she is the first American actress to be nominated for a César in 30 years. In 1984, Julia Migenes was nominated for her role in Carmen.
The Best Supporting Actor award went to Reda Kateb for Hippocrate.
She later re-emerged with her Sils Maria co-star and Best Actress nominee Juliette Binoche all mitchy-matchy in white, to present the award for Best Actor. Winner Pierre Niney, who played the lead in Jalil Lespert’s Yves Saint Laurent, was gracious enough to thank Gaspard Ulliel, who was also up for the same award for the same role but in the distinctly different film, Saint Laurent by Bertrand Bonello. Both biopics about the late couturier had nominations in various categories. Yves Saint Laurent also took home the trophy for Best Costume Design (Madeline Fontaine).
And like Edouard Baer said, these biopics about a fashion designer have given ideas to other directors — or rather a sketch where two actors audition to play designer Jean Paul Gaultier who don’t even recognize the real Gaultier when he makes an appearance. That and Baer’s decision to make a 35-second film called Panique aux Césars! (I think you can decipher that) where a thief steals a dozing actor’s handbag were amongst the rare funny moments.
Sean Penn, seated between Charlize Theron, Luc Besson and César Academy president Alain Terzian, received this year’s Honorary César from the hands of Oscar nominee Marion Cotillard. The actor was moved by the lengthy standing ovation and by Cotillard’s very long presentation – all eight minutes of it. She gushed about Penn being “a free man” who fights for many causes and also evoked the love affair between the actor and France: “Sean, France loves you and knows that you also love France.” Sean Penn returned the compliments by evoking his admiration for French cinema. A man of few words, his speech was a concise two minutes that ended with him joking how the retrospective reel they had shown of his works showed the ravages of time on his face.
Speaking of time, the ceremony closed at midnight as Sissako invited everyone who worked on his film to take the stage.
Best Movie: Timbuktu by Abderrahmane Sissako
Best Director: Abderrahmane Sissako for Timbuktu
Best Screenplay: Abderrahmane Sissako and Kessen Tall for Timbuktu
Best Actress: Adèle Haenel for Les Combattants
Best Actor: Pierre Niney for Yves Saint Laurent
Best Supporting Actor: Reda Kateb for Hippocrate
Best Supporting Actress: Kristen Stewart for Sils Maria
Best Foreign Film: Mommy by Xavier Dolan
Breakthrough Actress: Louane Emera for La Famille Bélier
Breakthrough Actor: Kévin Azaïs for Les Combattants
Best Directorial Debut: Les Combattants by Thomas Cailley
Best Adaptation: Cyril Gely and Volker Schlöndorff for Diplomatie
Best Original Soundtrack: Amine Bouhafa for Timbuktu
Best Photography: Sofian El Fani for Timbuktu
Best Sound: Philippe Welsh, Roman Dymny, Thierry Delor for Timbuktu
Best Editing: Nadia Ben Rachid for Timbuktu
Best Animated Feature (short film): Les Petits Cailloux by Chloé Mazlo
Best Animated Feature (feature film): Minuscule – La Vallée des Fourmies Perdues by Thomas Szabo and Hélène Giraud
Best Documentary: The Salt of the Earth by Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado
Best Short Film: La Femme de Rio by Emma Luchini and Nicolas Rey
Best Costume: Madeline Fontaine for Yves Saint Laurent
Best Set Decor: Thierry Flamand for La Belle et La Bête