Paris, France: France’s annual celebration of cinema, Les Cesars, was hoping for renewal on Friday after a bitter fallout last year over the industry’s response to the #MeToo movement.
The entire board of the Cesar Academy resigned in the build-up to the 2020 ceremony after Roman Polanski, who has faced multiple sexual assault allegations and is wanted in the United States for the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl in 1977, received the most nominations, for his film “An Officer and a Spy”.
The night itself was perhaps the most fractious in French cinema history, with stars walking out of the ceremony when Polanski, who was not present, won the best director and best screenplay, and police using tear gas against protesters outside.
For many, the academy’s choices underlined the reluctance to face up to historical abuse in the French film industry.
There were many who wondered whether the awards show would take place at all this year, given the added mood-killer of the pandemic.
But despite a few weeks’ delay, it is back — albeit with strictly limited attendance that will include only the nominees and presenters.
“It’s at funerals that we laugh the most,” joked this year’s master of ceremonies, actress Marina Fois.
Although the French industry fared slightly better than other Western territories last year thanks to reopenings over the summer, cinemas have been shuttered again since October with no end in sight, and there are hundreds of films all dressed up with nowhere to go.
Drama behind the scenes
Among those handing out prizes on Friday night will be Cesar’s favorite Isabelle Huppert — but not Adele Haenel, the breakout star from 2019’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire”, who walked out at last year’s ceremony.
She became a hero of the #MeToo movement in France after accusing the director of her first film, Christophe Ruggia, of sexually harassing her when she was only 12.
No big controversies in the nominations list this year, with a light-hearted drama about messy romances “Love Affair(s)” (also titled “The Things We Say, The Things We Do”) leading the pack with 13 nominations.
But nor does the field offer much sign that women and ethnic minorities are progressing up the ranks, with both the best film and best director categories including only one woman.
Much of the drama this year 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.
Their choice of the presenter was a statement: Fois is a leading feminist voice in the industry who strongly denounced the previous academy’s direction — though she has said much more work is needed, particularly in reaching an equal gender split among voters.