After two tense and unifying editions, but which had the merit of connecting the ceremony to the upheavals of its time, what idea of cinema is the recently renovated Académie des César preparing to defend?
For a long time, the César ceremony was experienced by the French cinema profession either as a big party (blissful hypothesis), or as a chore (realistic and contrite hypothesis), but in any case was not really the place of a stake major policy. At most, one could see reflected in it the image that French cinema wanted to project of itself, an image that varied according to the seasons.
Sometimes, the profession has taken pleasure in valuing its authorist periphery (2016, the year of Fatima best film and Desplechin best director), sometimes to plebiscite a modest outsider rather than a French blockbuster (victory of Up to the hilt on The Big Bath in 2019) but, more often than not, the Academy rewarded its most successful elements on the market (A prophet, The Artist, Les Garçons and Guillaume, at the table!…).
Conflagration and rain of criticism
This purring coronation, where in the worst case the audience of guests dozed, had experienced a sudden conflagration in 2020. Suddenly, with the twelve nominations for J’accuse by Roman Polanski, the ceremony became the battleground between two visions. One considering that the film could not be evaluated in isolation from what Roman Polanski had become the symbol of (sexual predation, male domination, impunity for criminal acts, etc.); the other choosing to perpetuate its hierarchies – even if it means awarding the César for best director for the fifth time to Roman Polanski! – and intending to remain deaf to the anger of the time. It is therefore in a room emptied of part of the members of the profession (the one who slammed his chairs in the wake of Céline Sciamma and Adèle Haenel) that the ceremony of 2020 ended.
The reforms carried out since on the Academy (requirement of parity at its top as at its base, new board of directors, more transparent functioning) made it possible to hope for a refoundation from a sanitized situation. As for the exceptional context of the health crisis, it could have, by weakening the entire chain, created unprecedented solidarity and empathy. The opposite happened, and the 2021 ceremony was booed by the media like none before it. Even the Minister of Culture in person (in a really inappropriate remark), many criticized the many political outbursts of the speakers, first of all their questioning of the government’s support policy for cultural industries.
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The injunction that film professionals remain in their supposed place, that of entertainers feelgood celebrating the “great magic of the show”, is utterly inept. The ceremony is only relevant if it is also a platform – and not just a show. Alas, if in the right-wing press the evening was judged to be far too left-wing, the prize list could conversely be considered as not very progressive.
Follow or get out of the market
In this year of meager harvests, the profession chose to donate no less than seven statuettes to its safe havens: a major label (la Gaumont), a film with strong commercial potential (Goodbye idiots) and an already multi-award winning filmmaker (Albert Dupontel). As if the weakening of its forces by the pandemic had caused all of French cinema to huddle behind its best-armed, best-endowed and most commercially aggressive representative (and the great political nihilism of Dupontel’s film – basically, all of them). you idiots except my beloved characters – added to the confusion). All in all, the evening of March 12, 2021 sent a message that was not very audible.
After two crisis ceremonies, what direction for French cinema will the Césars take? At the time of closing these lines, we don’t yet know anything about the nominations (they are made public the day this issue comes out). We can nevertheless anticipate that the Cesar scene will have to arbitrate several questions. First, to decide on that of the box office. Is the vocation of the Césars to reward success and give medals to the most deserving workers? Or should it, on the contrary, free itself from market criteria? Among the millionaire films that can apply for major statuettes are North ferry (which culminates with 2.2 million admissions), eiffel (1.4 million) and Aline (1.2 million) – followed, below the million, bylost illusions (800,000 entries).
A film, nevertheless, would be seen as a strong gesture: the splendid Onoda by Arthur Harari
Facing these candidates carried by the crowd, we find the other category, that of films dabbling between 150 and 350,000 admissions, but benefiting from the prestigious showcase (and sometimes the highest awards) of the major festivals: Annette (directing award at Cannes), Titanium (Palme d’Or), The Event (Golden Lion) – and to a lesser extent other films in competition at Cannes or Venice: Lovers, Benedetta, France, The Olympics Where The divide.
It is likely that at the nomination stage, the Académie des César does not decide and panache between the two categories. A film, nevertheless, would be seen as a strong gesture: the splendid Onoda by Arthur Harari. It is very rare for films with less than 100,000 admissions to be selected by the Césars (rare exception: Eastern Boys by Robin Campillo, in 2015). It is to be hoped that the impressive artistic achievement ofOnoda – despite its box office score below the unofficial entry ticket – lands it some of the highest nominations. This would be one of the surest indicators of the Academy’s disposition to support artistic risk.
Another question on which the institution will have to position itself is that of the recognition of female directors and the break with a history which has until now essentially valued male cinema (remember that only Tonie Marshall has to date obtained the César de la best realization while Agnès Varda or Claire Denis, among others, never had it). It is hard to see how, the year when the Palme d’or and the Lion d’or were awarded to French female directors (Titanium and The Event), the Caesars could assume to lag behind on these issues. Note that among the twelve probable candidates, five are directors (Ducournau, Diwan, Lemercier, Corsini, Garcia).
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Perhaps the directing category nominations have never been closer to parity. The unbridled virilism of North ferry or the ambivalence in the (incriminating but fascinating) description of male violence in Annette will they weight these two films? Will it be possible that the Césars 2022 are not the marker of a regeneration of French cinema by its female filmmakers?
“lost illusions”, film of “at the same time”
Where will the cursor be placed between aesthetic considerations, political issues and market recognition? On paper, the favorite is definitely lost illusions by Xavier Giannoli. Success at the box office while having an author cachet, a vitriolic portrait of the society of the spectacle itself based on all the spectacular artifices of the very expensive and very wiggly French prestige film, adaptation of a classic of 19th century literatureand century coupled with heavy critical allusions to our time: Giannoli’s film is the candidate of “at the same time”.
Standing firmly on the sidelines of extremes, nor on the side of a radical and mutant cinema à la Titanium nor close to the quasi-militarized security alarm of North ferry (widely relayed by several far-right political figures), lost illusions could therefore be found working towards a victory. And if the results of the César gave us this year a taste of those of the presidential?
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What are the challenges for the César 2022? – Les Inrocks