Can European cinema be thrown off balance by the weight of its success?
by Domenico La Porta
- Following the EFAs, Cineuropa ponders the consequences of Ida’s success on the general public across the pond, who are unfortunately still susceptible to simplistic clichés…
Lovers of the seventh art and the prize winners themselves had quite the memorable evening – or should I say a memorable night: a night at the opera! What a magnificent city and what a star-studded event for the 27th edition of the European Film Awards (read the news), the organisation and the glamour of which were every bit as impressive as the Oscars ceremony. The only thing missing was perhaps a kind of enthusiastic but brief post-event report, which this writer could gladly have done without, the morning after sharing in all the joy of the celebrations.
Day interior. A hotel reception in Riga, Latvia. 11.30 am. An American lady, aged around 30, is busy talking on her mobile phone as she checks out:
“I was at the EFAs, the European Oscars…”
I hear this and say to myself: good pitch, but could do better. Because after all, the point isn’t to compare Europeans with Americans, even if the aim is to put them on an equal footing. An event shouldn’t be defined by comparing it to another, and yet I made exactly the same faux pas in the very first paragraph of this piece. The American lady – who admits to me that she was invited by one of her business partners because she is a film buff – doesn’t make things any better. In fact, she makes things a lot worse, as she subsequently replies:
“... another black-and-white Polish film won all the awards. Europe, you know?”
We know. As well as being persistent, a cliché can also be scathing. The image of European cinema, which often gets boiled down to “arthouse” during conversations across the pond, has its fair share of these clichés, but by paying so many tributes to the masterpiece that is Ida [+see also:
interview: Pawel Pawlikowski
interview: Pawel Pawlikowski
film profile], the members of the Academy have chosen to place this well-known fact to one side and have perhaps underestimated the counterweight of such a decision, which is entirely devoted to celebrating a type of cinema that incorporates the most beautiful and most fundamental of elements. It is not an own goal exactly, but it is something that somewhat resembles that same inadvertent act. Would this also be damaging for the rest of the team, as it squares up to an opponent that still continues to brag about its supremacy in the world rankings? Because we could strike back against this snippet of a phone call, which even avoids mentioning the film’s title, by wielding the European People’s Choice Award, which represents Ida’s popularity among the audience; what’s more, the movie is one of the few European works to have broken through to North American audiences in 2014, boosted by some impressive theatrical admissions figures and a high print run. One could even foresee Ida running a good chance of winning the Oscars race, as Paweł Pawlikowski’s film is Poland’s official representative at the shortlisting stage in the category of Best Foreign-language Film.
We could, and will, present this counter-argument whenever possible, but as justified as it may be, it should not be debated between two people checking out on a Sunday morning. The explanation is just too tiresome to put together, and in any case, our American friend will not pass it on in the same type of packaging she used for her killing punch line. The information is not viral enough, which is already in itself a concern for the promotion of European cinema, an area that Cineuropa has been devoting all its energy to for 12 years now, even if it means sometimes taking one for the team and playing the amalgamation game. The most lamentable thing is the realisation that neither this information, nor the five statuettes, will be enough to entice an American woman who has not seen the film to the movie theatre – even though she “is a film buff” and attended the European Film Awards ceremony, which announced its nominees well in advance – and despite the availability of the movie all over her country. With three trophies in one pocket and two in the other, Paweł Pawlikowski is still boldly walking the tightrope that links cinema to its audience, but the risk of losing the balance is all too present. Perhaps the danger could have been alleviated through a single prize awarded elsewhere or by reallocating the prizes on the awards list, but it is certainly not up to us – as journalists – to be the judges of that. That job was, logically, entrusted to over 3,000 industry professionals, members of the Academy chaired by Wim Wenders, who is the figurehead of those who jump to the defence of the European industry. Just like in politics, it is the issue of responsibility for a vote that lies behind the title of this piece, and just like in politics, a vote has consequences for the general public that cannot be ignored, not even on a Sunday morning.
A brief perusal of the social networks will confirm the trend for cynicism, reinforced by the absence of Marion Cotillard (the only award winner who did not make the trip to Riga, owing to serious health issues, but who “would without doubt come to collect her Oscar, even if she had pneumonia”) and the Lifetime Achievement Award collected by Agnes Varda, one of the great stars of the evening, and with good reason, but who unfortunately adds fuel to the cliché fire of this mass audience that might very well enjoy surfing, but seldom on the Nouvelle Vague. We must be brave enough to admit it: this audience is still also a target for the European Film Awards as an occasion. In any case, it is regularly the target audience for European cinema in theatres, and the same applies when it comes to broadcasting a ceremony of this calibre or (re)conquering sponsors for it that will allow it to grow.
Should we therefore be surprised at the low numbers of television broadcasters for the 27th edition of the EFAs, in Europe and beyond? Could we also envisage a broadcasting-rights war in the future? The Oscars will turn 87 years old in 2015. What was their strategy like 60 years ago? They certainly would not have been able to foresee 2014’s all time record number of retweets, but someone really had to plan for it one day. At what stage? While we don’t always have to bring things down to a comparison with the Oscars, it would perhaps be wise to draw a parallel on this level for our “young” celebration of European films, which also asks nothing more than to be shared by as many people as possible.
Very soon, Cineuropa’s journalists will cast their votes from around the 28 member states in order to select their TOP 5 European films of 2014. Cineuropa’s ranking will be established on the basis of their choices. They have been asked the same question as the one that appears in the title, as they all have a responsibility that we do not take lightly here – a responsibility to the editor, who would like to take this opportunity to thank the organisation of the European Film Awards for their invitation and the warm welcome they offered us in the European Capital of Culture.
(Translated from French)