After years of covering film festivals it was an eye opener to recently go behind the scenes in Zurich and Stockholm, to vote on juries as well as hosting Q&As, including one very special Zurich Masterclass with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.
Who was to know that the Game of Thrones hunk is such a cad? Or that Australia’s Babyteeth director Shannon Murphy is a livewire and a hoot rivalling even her partner Dan Wyllie in the comedy stakes? Our Aussie woman double act on stage in Zurich seemed to impress the local crowd, as did her film (one of two films directed by women in the Venice competition, of course).
Last Friday in Stockholm, I was part of an all-woman FiPRESCI (critics) jury together with Elena Rubashevska from Ukraine and Sonya Aleksandrova from Bulgaria. We voted Francois Ozon’s By the Grace of God best film in the Open Zone section. The French-Belgian film is about to release in Australia and can’t be missed. The comparisons with the Cardinal Pell saga are glaring.
Ozon, again displaying his broad range as a director, relates the claims of sexual abuse by victims of the now defrocked Lyon priest Bernard Preynat and shows how the Catholic Church covered up his actions. The characters Ozon presents are based on real life men and, as usual, his casting is impeccable.
His regular collaborator Melvil Poupaud plays the more affluent of the victims, apparently, a mix of several men, while Swann Arlaud (best actor Cesar winner for Bloody Milk) delivers his usually sensitive portrayal as a damaged man who struggles to get by.
In our Cannes interview for his new romantic comedy, The Bare Necessity, Arlaud told me that the man he portrays in By the Grace of God is real, as is the fact that his penis is bent from self-abuse, which is horrifying as we hear about it in the film. Ozon didn’t want there to be any resemblance, so Arlaud only met the man at the screening of the film. “It was something very strong,” he says. “This incredible man had a real fight, it was difficult and he was heroic for that.”
Is he alright now? “Yes. He said the film helped advance their plight. It’s a moment in cinema that can really advance a cause. I was proud to participate in that.”
Denis Menochet (Custody, Inglourious Basterds) brings his usual heft to the proceedings as the victim who leads the group to take on the Catholic Church. Ozon, who himself had a Catholic upbringing and was once cornered by a priest at an early age – though nothing happened – has crafted a kind of procedural that makes for gripping viewing while dealing with issues at the heart of Vatican reforms. Sexual abuse by priests in Boston had been the subject of the Oscar-winning film Spotlight.
“I have the impression, it’s everywhere in the world,” Arlaud says. “At the same time, what I found strong in By the Grace of God is that Francois doesn’t attack the belief in God or religion. He attacks the institution that protects the predators.”
In Zurich I was on the Series Jury, judging a competition comprising six series. Part of the fun was that I was together with the irrepressible Fanny Herrero, writer of the hit French series Call My Agent!, which is set in a talent agency and each week stars a French star prepared to send themselves up. A British version is in the works. Along with fellow juror David Sandreuter (Private Banking), we awarded the prize to Nir Bergman’s Just for Today, another important humanistic drama about Israeli former prisoners who are trying to stay out of trouble by living in a halfway home, which suddenly faces closure. Bergman generously donated his 10,000 Swiss Francs prize money to the home.
As the result of being with Coster-Waldau at the Q&A for his new Danish film, Suicide Tourist, where he hilariously insisted on personally delivering the microphone, I was too late for the Series Jury red carpet, though made it to the closing ceremony, which was held in the monumental Zurich Opera House. It was a thrill to present the Series award on such a large stage.
The previous evening, I had hosted the premiere of the French film, La Belle Epoque, one of the best films in Cannes, which released on November 6 in France and landed at the top of the box office beating out Joker. (It releases in Australia in 2020). It’s the kind of endearing, romantic and very funny film the French rarely make these days and is a love letter to Daniel Auteuil and Fanny Ardant, who remind us they are two of the greats. Interestingly, the film stems from the talent of 39-year-old writer-director Nicolas Bedos, who is known as a comedic actor. He was onstage with his actress (and ex girlfriend), rising French star Doria Tillier and was very, very funny.
That was followed by the premiere of Judy with director Rupert Goold and producer David Livingstone (also the producer of Last Christmas). The British pair were in fine form as they discussed the Judy Garland story as well as the performance of their Oscar-bound lead actress Renee Zellweger, who so deftly captures Garland’s singing style as well as her hunched posture, the result of her being given appetite-suppressing drugs from a young age.
Earlier in the week I had been on stage with Lesley Chilcott, the American director of Watson, a documentary about Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson and where the man, who had been one of the founders of Greenpeace, is now. The film is hugely relevant to Australia’s environmental concerns and Chilcott, who had been one of the producers of An Inconvenient Truth (another Protagonist project), wore a jacket made from recycled fish netting.
In Stockholm, I conducted the Q&A with hot Chilean newcomer Mariana Di Girolamo, the star of Pablo Larrain’s Ema, which had premiered in Venice. I asked the 29-year-old about having to have on screen sex with so many of her cast members and thankfully she was up for it. (See story tomorrow.)