At the last Cannes Festival this past May Abderrahmane Sissako’s slow burn-tale about a town’s descent into Islamist hell was the first movie I saw. By the end of fest (that is, about fifty movies later), “Timbuktu” waded around my brain like a very sweet but anxiety-inducing dream I once had.
It’s now nearly a year later now and director Sissako has triumphed as France’s best filmmaker, getting some well-deserved recognition for this extraordinary film. The Césars, France’s very viable answer to our Oscars, were held during a ceremony in Paris last night while rain and winds battered the city.
“Timbuktu” has won, and won big: seven awards, among which Best Director and Best film prize. Can a filmmaker ask for anything more? More awards, please! “Timbuktu” also got the best original screenplay, music, cinematography, sound and editing nods.
In his acceptance speech the Mauritanian director paid tribute to France, saying, “this wonderful country, able to rise against horror,” in remembrance of the January 7th terrorist attacks which shook the country and raise the terrorist threat level to new heights. “Without France, without Arte (a French-German cable channel in the same vein as IFC which finances a lot of independent cinema), I could not have been the filmmaker that I am today.” The director added, “there is no clash of civilizations. But there is a meeting of civilizations.”
Kristen Stewart was on hand to receive a best female supporting award for her turn as Juliette Binoche’s assistant in “Sils Maria,” directed by Olivier Assayas. Some amid the French press have commented that she might as well have won the top acting award, as she more than deserved it.
Xavier Dolan got the César for Best Foreign Film. He could not be there but his collaborators were on hand to receive the prize.
This year marked the fortieth Césars ceremony.
As the evening drew to a close, Sean Penn received an honorary César from Marion Cotillard (“Inception”).
The phrase “Je suis charlie” was not heard last night, yet someone alluded to it. Namely, Joann Sfar (a comics artist and filmmaker) who was on hand to give out the prize for best animation to “Minuscule, the valley of the lost ants”.
“We’re not yet sure whether we can work in safety. But we’re going to try,” Sfar said. He was alluding to the cartoonists whose profession has been shaken to its core with the multiple murders of several of its leading artists. Yet the comment clearly applies to exceptionally-gifted and courageous filmmakers like Abderrahmane Sissako who confronts head-on the greatest threat to civilization since the Third Reich.