Happy to be Misérables in France

Oscar nominee takes top awards in the Lumières

by Richard Mowe

Street wise in the Paris suburbs: some of the youthful cast of Les Misérables
Street wise in the Paris suburbs: some of the youthful cast of Les Misérables Photo: SRAB Films - Rectangle Productions - Lyly Films

In what many regard as a precursor to the Césars (France’s Oscars), on 28 February the country’s Oscar submission Les Misérables took top honours at the 2020 Lumière Awards.

Noémie Merlant - best actress for Portrait Of A Lady On Fire
Noémie Merlant - best actress for Portrait Of A Lady On Fire Photo: Jean-Baptiste Le Mercier / UniFrance

The controversial film, described by some commentators as a La Haine for our times, has an Academy Award nomination for best international feature film. In last night’s (27 January) Lumières it won three trophies, including best film, screenplay and supporting actor for Alexis Manenti.

Director Ladj Ly, who has been in Los Angeles promoting the film among Academy members, lost out to Roman Polanski for the Best Director gong. Polanski received the the award for his historical drama about the celebrated Dreyfus affair, An Officer And A Spy (J’Accuse). Dreyfus was a Jewish captain in the French general staff, who on paltry evidence was accused of selling military secrets to the Germans.

The Lumières, which are described as France’s equivalent of the Golden Globes, are awarded by 130 members of the foreign press association in France, representing more than 40 different countries. In a wide-ranging selection honours went to Roschdy Zem as Best Actor in Arnaud Desplechin's crime drama Oh Mercy!. Acclaimed Cannes prize-winner Celine Sciamma’s Portrait Of A Lady On Fire nabbed two accolades - for Noemie Merland as Best Actress, and Best Cinematography for Claire Mathone.

The Best New Actress honour was bestowed on Mina Meurisse for her role in Boris Lojkine's Camille while Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre's The Mustang was named Best First Film.

Jean Dujardin as Dreyfus in An Officer And A Spy (J’Accuse)
Jean Dujardin as Dreyfus in An Officer And A Spy (J’Accuse) Photo: UniFrance

On the animation front, I Lost My Body by Jérémy Clapin won in the Best Animated Feature category, yet another boost for the title which has been acquired by Netflix.

The best international production Lumière was awarded to Elia Suleiman's Palestine drama It Must Be Heaven; and Yolande Zauberman's M was tapped as Best Documentary.

Actress Isabelle Huppert presided over the ceremony, which was held at the Olympia Music Hall where many of the greats of French song have performed. The awards have grown in stature over its 25 years. Director Costa-Gavras was the subject of a career achievement honour alongside Italian actor and director Roberto Benigni.

The President of the Lumières critic and film journalist Lisa Nesselson paid tribute to the diversity of films available in French cinemas and urged professionals to safeguard “L’Exception culturelle,” a political concept introduced by France in General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) negotiations in 1993 to treat culture differently from other commercial products, meaning that subsidies, quotas and tax breaks support French films, television and music.

The awards in full:-

Best Film

Best Director

  • Roman Polanski, An Officer And A Spy

Best Actress

Best Actor

Best Screenplay

Best Cinematography

Best First Film

  • The Mustang, Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre

Best Animated Film

Best New Actress

  • Nina Meurisse, Camille

Best New Actor

Best International Co-Production

  • It Must Be Heaven, Elia Suleiman

Best Documentary

  • M, Yolande Zauberman

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