Anna Hints, the director of Smoke Sauna Sisterhood, bounds on to the stage of the Arena Berlin wearing a patchwork velvet opera coat and feather earrings.
“Instead of a speech, I’m going to do a song,” she trills as she accepts the award for Best European Documentary. She valiantly attempts to lead the auditorium in an improvised chant that rhymes “European Film Academy” with “All our friends and family”. It works better than you might expect.
Welcome to the 36th European Film Awards, the only awards bash that combines the old-school continental charm of phone-in era Eurovision, references to the upcoming European Parliamentary elections, and a wheelchair-accessible red carpet.
Ahead of the ceremony, European Film Academy (EFA) chief executive Matthijs Wouter Knol, chairmain Mike Downey, and Academy president Agnieszka Holland take care to emphasise the inclusive nature of the awards body, whose 4,600 members hail from “geographical Europe” plus such associate members as Israel and Palestine.
“We have Ukrainian, Russian, Israeli and Palestinian members ... We want this to be a space to talk, to listen, to understand,” says Holland, as part of a joint statement. (Holland is a woman wearing many hats tonight: she’s also rightly nominated as Best Director and Best Screenplay for her work on Green Border.)
Dressed in a metallic animal-print dress and jumping around the audience, Ritta Steffenhagan, the ceremony’s zany presenter, lists all of the contributing European Film Academy countries, including warring states Armenia and Azerbaijan.
After last week’s big freeze, the snows had thawed across Berlin in time for the continent’s premiere film event.
It was still cold enough for several attendees to hang on to their jackets until the last minute. Sandra Hüller arrived in a padded coat but walked the red carpet in a black and white gown with chilly-looking cutouts.
She was, to the surprise of no one, subsequently named Best Actress for her incredible work on Anatomy of a Fall, over her second nominated performance in The Zone of Interest. Her director, Justine Triet, looked rather more comfortable in an outsized grey suit, a blue-green shirt, and fine, sensible boots.
As ever, in the spirit of inclusivity, various community groups are called upon to introduce nominated films. A street art collective gives their thoughts on the shortlisted feature documentaries, a board game society outlines the contenders for Best Animated Feature (which finally goes to the superb Robot Dreams).
Top of the list of Things You Don’t See at the Oscars: Hungarian master Béla Tarr swearing; Isabel Coixet notes the physical awards resemblance to a sex toy and wonders aloud if the Academy can “put batteries in it?”; Stellan Skarsgård is endlessly delayed on the red carpet by autograph hunters with Dune merchandise.
There comes a moment when zany Ritta realises that Ermita Frigato, recipient of the Best Production Design for her work on La Chimera, can’t understand English-language questions. She tries Spanish – no go – before calling into the audience for someone – anyone – to translate. A heroic casting agent comes to the rescue.
One EFA innovation, which requires that the nominees all sit together on a large couch as the category winner is announced, lends the appearance of a game show.
The production aims for brisk pacing. There’s no sobbing over the rising orchestra allowed. Pablo Berger, accepting his award for Robot Dreams, urges his producer towards the stage: “Run, Sandra, run; we’ve only got one minute.”
Little things like Leila Costa’s wildly enthusiastic appraisal of Isabel Coixet (who accepts the Achievement in World Cinema award) and Sandra Hüller’s moment of silence in which to “imagine peace” ensure that the ceremony overruns by almost 30 minutes.
There are some lovely scenes; Joely Richardson presents her mum, Vanessa Redgrave, with an honorary award; rising star and presenter Mia McKenna-Bruce whoops when she opens the envelope and calls out the name Molly Manning Walker, her How To Have Sex director and the recipient of the European Discovery Prix FIPRESCI.
Walker takes to the stage for a second time when 99 teenagers from 30 countries name Scrapper, on which she served as cinematographer, as the European Young Audience Award.
Actors talking about their directors, a European Film Awards tradition, yields many delights: “Thank you for being brave enough to tell this story; my story,” says exiled Syrian actor, Jalal Altawil of Green Border director Holland.
In recent years, the EFAs have hosted several clean sweep champions:
Quo Vadis, Aida? won four EFAs, including Best Film, in 2021; last year, Reuben Ostlund took home six prizes – notably film, director, actor, screenplay – with Triangle of Sadness.
This year promised a closer race with major festival triumphs going toe-to-toe. Three big hitters from Cannes: Palme d’Or winner Anatomy Of A Fall – Grand Prix and FIPRESCI winner The Zone of Interest, and Jury Prize recipient Fallen Leaves were shortlisted for Best Film and Best Director alongside Green Border and Me Captain, respective winners of Special Jury Prize and Best Actor at Venice.
Ultimately, it was another landslide. Justine Triet’s early win for Best Screenplay telegraphed an emphatic victory for Anatomy of a Fall. (Arthur Harari, Triet’s “life partner” and co-writer appeared onscreen behind her as she took to the stage for their screenplay win; he stayed home to mind their two daughters.)
Anatomy of a Fall later took home gongs for Best Actress, Best Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Film.
After 36 years, the EFAs are waving goodbye to the Christmas markets. This will be the last December ceremony in Berlin, the city that has hosted the European Film Awards every second year since its inception. Next year, the awards will take place in the Swiss city of Lucerne. And the 38th edition will move to mid-January in 2026 as part of the broader “awards season”.
As Holland and others have noted, box office receipts in Europe suggest that continental audiences don’t want escapism; if anything, they want more politics and more discourse. Holland’s Green Border, despite being dismissed by various Polish authorities, has already scared up more than $4 million (€3.7 million) in its home country, while Anatomy of a Fall has, thus far, sold $18.3 million in tickets, mostly in Europe.
Will Hollywood and competition from the Oscars ruin the European Film Academy? Let’s hope not.
2023 European Film Awards Nominees and Winners (winners in bold)
Anatomy Of A Fall (France) Dir. Justine Triet
Fallen Leaves (Finland, Germany) Dir. Aki KaurismäkiGreen Border (Poland, France, Czech Republic, Belgium) Dir. Agnieszka Holland
Io Capitano (Italy, Belgium) Dir. Matteo Garrone
The Zone Of Interest (United Kingdom, Poland, USA) Dir. Jonathan Glazer
Justine Triet for Anatomy Of A Fall
Aki Kaurismäki for Fallen Leaves
Agnieszka Holland for Green Border
Matteo Garrone for Me Captain
Jonathan Glazer for The Zone Of Interest
Justine Triet & Arthur Harari for Anatomy Of A Fall
Aki Kaurismäki for Fallen Leaves
Maciej Pisuk, Gabriela Łazarkiewicz-Sieczko & Agnieszka Holland for Green Border
İlker Çatak & Johannes Duncker for The Teachers’ Lounge
Jonathan Glazer for The Zone Of Interest
Sandra Hüller in Anatomy Of A Fall
Eka Chavleishvili in Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry
Alma Pöysti in Fallen Leaves
Mia McKenna-Bruce in How To Have Sex
Leonie Benesch In The Teachers’ Lounge
Sandra Hüller in The Zone Of Interest
Thomas Schubert in Afire
Jussi Vatanen in Fallen Leaves
Josh O’Connor in La Chimera
Mads Mikkelsen in The Promised Land
Christian Friedel in The Zone Of Interest
Apolonia, Apolonia (Denmark, Poland) Dir. Lea Glob
Four Daughters Dir. by Kaouther Ben Hania (France, Tunisia, Germany, Saudi Arabia)
Motherland (Sweden, Ukraine, Norway) Dir. Hanna Badziaka & Alexander Mihalkovich (Sweden, Ukraine, Norway)
On The Adamant (France, Japan) Dir. Nicolas Philibert (France, Japan)
Smoke Sauna Sisterhood (Estonia, France, Iceland) Dir. Anna Hints
European Discovery – Prix FIPRESCI
20,000 Species Of Bees (Spain) Dir. Estibaliz Urresola Solaguren (Spain)
How To Have Sex (UK, Greece) Dir. Molly Manning Walker
La Palisiada (Ukraine) Dir. directed by Philip Sotnychenko (Ukraine)
Safe Place (Croatia, Slovenia) Dir. Juraj Lerotić
The Quiet Migration (Denmark) Dir. Malene Choi
Young Audience Award
Scrapper (UK) Dir. Charlotte Regan
Longing For The World Dir. Jenna Hasse
One In A Million Dir. Joya Thome
European Animated Feature Film
A Greyhound Of A Girl (Luxembourg, Italy, Ireland, United Kingdom, Latvia, Estonia, Germany) Dir. Enzo d’Alò
Chicken For Linda! Dir. Chiara Malta and Sébastien Laudenbach (France, Italy)
Robot Dreams (Spain, France) Dir. Pablo Berger
The Amazing Maurice (Germany, UK) Dir. Toby Genkel
White Plastic Sky (Hungary, Slovakia) Dir. Tibor Bánóczkia and Sarolta Szabó
Rasmus Videbæk for The Promised Land
Laurent Sénéchal for Anatomy Of A Fall
European Production Design
Emita Frigato for La Chimera
European Costume Design
Kicki Ilander for The Promised Land
European Make-up & Hair
Ana López-Puigcerver, Belén López-Puigcerver, David Martí & Montse Ribé for Society Of The Snow
European Original Score:
Markus Binder for Club Zero
Johnnie Burn & Tarn Willers for The Zone Of Interest
European Visual Effects
Félix Bergés, Laura Pedro for Society of The Snow