European Film Awards: What makes them European?

By Nemanja Milosevic

The period between late November and early March is generally known as a film award period, during which we have the opportunity to follow several national European ceremonies (most notably the BAFTA in the United Kingdom, the Goya Awards in Spain, the Deutscher Filmpreis in Germany and the Cérémonie des Césars in France). However, there is only one ceremony that helps us recapitulate all the movies produced and made in Europe during the year: the European Film Awards (EFA). The annual award ceremony started in 1988 and it changes the host city every other year, while during the year in between the event takes place in Berlin; this system was introduced in order to give equal representation to all parts of Europe. This year the award was given in Seville, Spain on December 15, 2018.

The main award, the European Film of the Year, was given to the Polish film Zimna Wojna (Cold War). The movie got 5 awards overall, just one less than the all-time record holder, The Ghost Writer, by Roman Polanski. Besides the awards at the EFA, its director Paweł Pawlikowski previously got an award at the Cannes Film Festival. The movie set in the 1950s tells us about a love story intertwined with the political and social landscape of the time, about love torn between identity, longing, and ambition.
The story about Zula and Wiktor is based on the love story of the director’s parents, who themselves moved out of and returned to Poland several times and had a turbulent relationship[1]. Cold War is a black and white movie that successfully connects all the dots – the inner-worlds of its characters, the political orientation of Poland at the time, the division of Europe and how it influenced the identity of its citizens. Just the title Cold War tells us that we are watching something that constitutes more than a personal story between two lovers whose different aspirations in life stand in the way of their shared future. A true gem of this film is the soundtrack with the lead song “Dwa Serduszka”, whose transformation in the movie follows the transformation of the main character Zula and accompanies all events in the movie perfectly.
The only drawback in the movie is that the female perspective is underrepresented, we learn about all the events related to the couple mostly from Wiktor’s perspective, without ever getting the chance to learn more about the reasoning behind Zula’s life-choices; among others, her constant longing for Poland lingers unexplored. However, the movie still remains a masterpiece at every level: political, visual, stylistic, and musical.

Euroculture Udine & the EFA

It is important to note that, like last year, Euroculture as a program had a part in the European Film Award, since the department of Euroculture in Udine participated in chosing the movie that won the European University Film Award, one of the special awards given every year as a part of the main ceremony. Alongside 21 other university departments around Europe, students of Euroculture in Udine had a chance, as part of the European Screen Studies course, to see all 5 nominated films and decide which movie deserves the award and why (the class in Udine voted the Israeli movie Foxtrot as the best film). Later on, one student was sent to Hamburg to represent the University of Udine and Euroculture, and together with other representatives (one per country – 22 in total) decided on what film would win.
The University Award is a quite recent initiative. This year was the third occasion that European students got to decide on the best film; this idea was inspired by a similar project in Canada, where a much younger audience discusses and votes on movies. The nominated films for the University award are usually different from the main category, Best European Film, although sometimes there are one or two movies that appear in both categories. The nominated movies for the European University Film Award are usually selected by the special jury bearing in mind the two crucial adjectives in the title of the award: university and European. These were also the criteria that students gathered in Hamburg used to evaluate the movies and choose one winner. It was important to discuss what makes movies European, in a sense that they convey the European identity or discuss topics relevant for the continent, and how does it cater to a young audience (thus, university in the title). All 5 nominated movies deal with topics that are currently discussed in Europe and are part of the public discourse.

Film CopFree

The Selection

The movie Utøya – July 22 is a Norwegian film directed by Erik Poppe. The movie is a reconstruction of the tragedy that took place on the island of Utøya when a right-wing terrorist killed 77 persons, mostly teenagers, who were attending a left-wing summer camp. The movie uses cinematic language successfully to immerse the audience in this terrible event, the usage of a single shot and camera movements makes us experience the terrorist attack almost as if we were right there, witnessing the events first-hand.
The documentary Tarzan’s Testicles is made by the Romanian director Alexandru Solomon but features a story about Abkhazia, a disputed territory that is a place of constant conflict between Russia and Georgia. The director uses the example of a scientific center that researches monkeys and is dedicated to altering the biology of humans and primates to tell us the history of Abkhazia, but also let us learn more about the identity of people living in the city, and personal stories of workers in the controversial scientific center.
Lazzaro Felice is an Italian movie shot in a neorealistic style, shot on a super 16mm film. Directed by Alice Rohrwacher, it is the only movie in the selection made by a female director, and this translates well in the movie, with characters being stripped of the typical gender stereotypes. The movie tells us the story about modern day slavery in Italy and draw parallels to the transition from feudalism to modernism. It is a perfect representation of what ideology means, and how we get trapped in it without ever being able to be set free, even if we are liberated from the chains that hold us down.
Styx is an emotional drama directed by the German director Wolfgang Fischer. The strong female character, Rieke, is a doctor that leaves her job to go on a sailing boat and head to a paradise island in the south of Africa. On her journey, she encounters a ship with refugees who are seeking help, as the ship is leaking. She is soon found in a difficult and desperate situation as she has to choose between following the instructions of the coast guard and going closer to the ship in order to help as many people she can. The coast guard remains silent and doesn’t show any intention of helping people any time soon, which leads to Rieke saving one boy. The movie exquisitely showcases the process of dehumanization that takes place in current public discourse in Europe and tells us that we need to put a human face on human suffering even when it is not white nor European.
The last movie in the selection is an Israeli drama Foxtrot, presented in three acts and directed by Samuel Maoz. The movie is a brave attempt to mix genres and styles, which is something that has not been done in films dealing with war. As the director has explained himself, the movie discusses the reality of the war in Israel, and how death has become part of the reality and routine in this country. For the director Maoz, modern Israel can be explained in four words – “oranges and dead soldiers”[2] and the constant fear for the well-being of his family inspired him to make this movie and explore this topic. In the first scene parents learn about the death of their son, but later on strange turn events will make all the characters go through the journey, which is like the dance Foxtrot itself, it always ends up at the point where it began.

The Award

Out of the five films presented, the student jury in Hamburg decided to award the Italian movie Lazzaro Felice the first prize. The movie won because of its distinct style, based on using neorealist movie technics with a modern touch, and on the other hand for its portrayal of different social circumstances that are featured in the movie. The movie excels on a stylistic level but also delivers a great exploration of the human experience of those who are most exploited in the history of society. There are many elements that make this movie one of the best of the year, which is even evident in the many lists and rankings made by critics and we can hope to see equally inspiring and exquisite movies from Alice Rohrwacher in the future.
The enslaved group of workers are liberated when the police finds out about the case, they are obviously kept in the dark and not told that their enslaved condition is illegal in modern day Italy. They are soon liberated by police, but we find out that they are not integrated into the modern, capitalist society, moreover, their agency and scope of opportunities remained the same as it was before they were liberated. Lazzaro Felice tackles two important topics: modern-day slavery and the basis of wealth inequality. Slavery is not necessarily the result of the constraints to movement and choice, but it can be engraved deeply into the mentality of people – for them, their condition is the only one they know about. The modern-day human trafficking does not necessarily include physically isolating the victim, but also emotional and phycological dependence of the victim on the trafficker, shaming, getting the victim addicted to the narcotics, etc. Human trafficking is an important issue today, as it is reported that an estimated 24.9 million victims are trapped in modern-day slavery[3], with a notable number of victims being exploited in the EU countries.
On the other hand, wealth inequality is a topic of many political debates nowadays, as a large number of voters in many countries turns to left-wing political options. Inequality is rising or staying extremely high nearly everywhere in the world[4], which can be attributed to the lack of inclusion of a large portion of the world population into the modern and rapidly changing processes of production. The social and economic reality presented in the winning film, Happy as Lazzaro, is what many generations can identify with and care about and most notably, European university students.


[1] https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/in-cold-war-pawel-pawlikowski-tells-his-parents-love-story
[2] https://www.eufa.org/en/films/2018/001_Foxtrot.php
[3] https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/human-trafficking-numbers
[4] https://inequality.org/facts/global-inequality/


 

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