I watched the Golden Globes a little while ago, and I've got to hand it to them -- it's a nice little show. However, I preferred the Award ceremony I attended earlier in the day, the Awards Brunch for the Palm Springs International Film Festival. True, the Globes had Bill Clinton bringing all his ex-presidential heft to plugging Globe Best Picture nominee "Lincoln," but here at Palm Springs we had Udo Kier arguing with the people at the buffet table about when they were going to start serving. The Globes had Jodie Foster getting a box of hand puppets from Mel Gibson, star of her last film "Beaver." But here in Palm Springs we had a real life road runner looking through a window into the banquet room at a table full of pastries. Which event would you have preferred to attend?
The Brunch also featured the presentation of the FIPRESCI Awards for Best Picture, Actor, and Actress, chosen by our jury from the forty or so pictures in the "Awards Buzz: Best Foreign Language Film" category. As you can imagine, there were some tough choices, but Best Picture came down to "Fill the Void" by Israeli director Rama Burshtein. It is an equisitely acted, nuanced drama about a young woman in a Hassidic family pressured to marry her brother-in-law when his wife, and her sister, dies in childbirth. I already had my preconceptions ready when I went to see it -- patriarchal tyrants squashing the spirit of an independent woman -- but it didn't take long before my expectations were overturned. It is a film without villains and a delicate study of the universal themes of loss, innocence, power, and grace.
The actress category also proved a challenge, with many strong performances to choose from. We settled on Emilie Dequenne in Belgian director Joachim Lafosse's "Our Children." In it she plays a woman who starts out happily married to a Moroccan man who is a ward, of sorts, to a wealthy doctor. In short order she has three children. Life becomes more confining and gradually her world implodes, as her husband and the doctor become dismissive and abusive. Dequenne portrays the spiral into madness with unnerving conviction, making the terrible denoument all the more shattering.
The outstanding male performances were fewer and farther between, but there were five in one movie alone -- Paolo and Vittorio Taviani's "Caesar Must Die." So we gave the prize to all five of them as an ensemble cast. In a Roman maximum security prison a cast of real-life inmates (Cosimo Rega, Salvatore Striano, Giovanni Arcuri, Antonio Frasca, and Vincenzo Gallo) rehearses and puts on a performance of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar." The performances work on several levels -- as depictions of characters in the play itself, as dramatizations of the performers' relationships with each other as reflected by the characters in the play, and as a means of the actors to confront their own past and their present circumstances. The amateur actors bring a rawness and energy to their roles that makes the film work on every level, drawing them together into a powerful climax.