In what felt like a statement against criticisms of the embittered French film academy, controversy magnet Roman Polanski won the Best Director prize at the 2020 César Awards in Paris on Friday for his Dreyfus Affair drama “An Officer and a Spy.” He beat out fellow nominees including Ladj Ly, whose “Les Misérables” ultimately won Best Film, and Céline Sciamma, whose wildly acclaimed “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” went home with just one award, for Best Cinematography. Polanski’s win did not sit well with “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” star Adèle Haenel, who could be seen in the telecast walking out of the ceremony at the Salle Pleyel when the award was announced. Watch below.
Haenel has been an active voice in the #MeToo movement which, as she outlined in a recent New York Times interview, she believes has failed in France. That claim appeared to resonate at the Césars — France’s equivalent to the Academy Awards — when Polanski, a convicted sex offender, won the top directing prize. In fall 2018, Haenel spoke about her own experience with sexual harassment while working with “The Devils” director Christophe Ruggia. Haenel was up for Best Actress at the French awards this year, but lost to Anaïs Demoustier for “Alice and the Mayor.”
Polanski was a no-show at the ceremony, as were his “Officer and a Spy” team members, all of whom boycotted the ceremony earlier this week.
“Activists are threatening me with a public lynching. Some have called for demonstrations, others are planning to make it a platform,” he told Agence France Presse earlier this week. “This promises to look more like a symposium than a celebration of cinema designed to reward its greatest talents.”
Polanski, a convicted sex offender, has lived in exile in France since fleeing the United States in 1978. In France, his continuing body of work is well-received. Along with three César trophies for “An Officer and a Spy” on Friday night — directing, adapted screenplay, and costumes — the annual awards have past feted Polanski with Best Director in 2014 for “Venus in Fur,” Best Adapted Screenplay for “Carnage” in 2012, along with multiple prizes each for “The Ghost Writer,” “The Pianist,” and “Tess.”
As the César Awards were underway on Friday, women’s activist groups outside the venue protested Polanski’s inclusion among the nominees.
Adèle forever. pic.twitter.com/Fhe9xSLxCK
— Portrait of a Lady on Fire @Portrait_Movie February 28, 2020
Oscar-winning producers Barry Jenkins and Adele Romanski re-team for Eliza Hittman's timely tale of the challenges that face a teenage girl as she seeks an abortion.
As theaters shuttered across the nation amid the coronavirus pandemic, the filmmakers of Never Rarely Sometimes Always had a tough decision to make - wait to release the movie when theaters reopen, or release the film on digital platforms to capitalize on an audience confined to their homes.
Ultimately, for Adele Romanski and Barry Jenkins, who produced the film under their Pastel Productions banner, the story about a teenage girl's journey to get a safe and legal abortion was resonant with the current state of women's reproductive health in America, and so they, along with writer-director Eliza Hittman and distributor Focus Features, opted to release the film on VOD platforms.
"What we do know is that we have a film that's very urgent right now," Romanski tells The Hollywood Reporter. "There continues to be a war on women's health and certain states saying abortions are non-essential medical procedures in response to COVID-19, so we know we have a film that matters."
Written and directed by Hittman Beach Rats, It Felt Like Love and made for under $3 million, Never Rarely Sometimes Always is the story of the teenage Autumn, played by first-time actor Sidney Flanigan, who decides to travel with her cousin Skylar Talia Ryder from her rural Pennsylvania town to New York City to get an abortion. The film delves into the real challenges that the two girls face within the medical system and an unfriendly big city.
The film debuted at Sundance Film Festival this year, where it won a special jury award, and then went on to win the Silver Bear prize at the Berlin Film Festival in February. The film was slated to hit theaters on March 13, but with theaters closing down, it was released on demand on April 3.
"We all believe we have a very powerful piece of art and a very captive audience sitting at home," says Jenkins. "The movie's rated PG-13 and it's really powerful because there's all these kids sitting at home right now trying to figure out what to watch, and while they're doing that, there's states all across the country saying that an abortion is not an essential procedure."
Jenkins and Romanski talked to THR about how Hittman tackled highly politicized issue of abortion with nuance, the biggest production challenges and the decision to bring the film to home screens early.
How did your collaboration with Eliza Hittman come about?
Romanski: We had been fans of Eliza's work since It Felt Like Love, which also debuted at Sundance, and stuck up a friendship as one does on the festival circuit and when we were coming together years later and forming Pastel and thinking about who were the kinds of artists and filmmakers we wanted to...