A quick word on the Oscars, if only because ignoring them in the week of this site’s inauguration would be just a little too perverse. I didn’t deign to actually watch the ceremony – the last time I bothered staying up that late the winner was Titanic and, as I’m sure you can guess, the resulting disenchantment is likely to be with me in perpetuum. Not that one needs to watch it anyway as it has really about as much to do with film as St Patrick’s Day has with sainthood.
That said there were more than a few pleasant surprises, not least of which was the rare triumph of a genuinely good film, the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men. I had given up on the Coens for some time before this film and though their film version shaves about a dimension and a half off Cormac McCarthy’s source novel, it is an intelligent, searingly-faithful adaptation and the best of the films that were nominated (that I have yet seen, There Will Be Blood awaits me this weekend). The awarding of Best Adapted Screenplay to the Coens for a film 90% of whose dialogue and incident is lifted wholesale from the novel is also wryly amusing, as I’m sure they themselves realise.
It was a good night for Europe, with all the acting awards going to people from this side of the pond, even if few of the roles were hardly atypical Oscar ones, and a good night too for Ireland, with Daniel Day-Lewis picking up his second Best Actor award, along with Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová who won Best Song. I can even shelve my profound irritation at the tweeness (and general amateurness) of Once to take pleasure in this, the song being (like much of the soundtrack) a lot better than what went on around it in the film. And there was also the national poet cited in the title of the winning film, as any of you will remember from Leaving Cert English, the first Irish Nobel Laureate involved in the Oscars since George Bernard Shaw reluctantly won Best Adapted Screenplay for Pygmalion in 1939.
Over here in France the local equivalent, the Césars, which generally tend to be similar to the Oscars in terms of cinematic adventurousness, also threw up a pleasant surprise. Marion Cotillard won Best Actress for La Môme just as she would for its subtitled alter ego La Vie en Rose in Hollywood two nights later, and Mathieu Amalric Best Actor for Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. But the crowning success was Abdelketif Kechiche’s second Best Picture award for La Graine et le mulet (its title for the Anglophone market is the despairingly bland The Secret of the Grain). The tale of an sexagenarian Maghrebin’s efforts to open a harbourside restaurant in the southern port of Sète, the film runs to two and a half hours, is filmed on digital video with non-professional actors and features lengthy takes of such movie-staple scenes as a meeting with the bank manager, watching couscous being made in real time, and belly-dancing. And it works brilliantly; it is as accessible as it is daringly experimental and features superb acting from its tyro cast, including 22-year-old Marseille law student Hafsia Herzi, who won the Best Female Newcomer Award. The film will challenge many people’s lazily-conceived ideas of what constitutes French cinema and will hopefully prove to be as big a success abroad as it has been in France. Its final twenty minutes are a virtuoso piece of filmmaking, of which I will say no more…
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