European Film Awards 2011

On Dec. 3 the curtain goes up on the European Film Awards in Berlin, but those TV viewers expecting to see a stream of Hollywood stars coming onstage will be disappointed, as this is a night when the leading players of the European arthouse scene get their moment in the limelight.

True, there will be some faces that the multiplex crowd will recognize — Kirsten Dunst, Tilda Swinton and Colin Firth are all nominees, and other thesps who are well-known in their home countries, such as French thesps Cecile de France, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Jean Dujardin — but the true stars of this event tend to be the auteurs, with Aki Kaurismaki, Susanne Bier and Bela Tarr among the nominees this year. The live broadcast will be available in more than 100 countries on four continents.

But the helmer that everyone will be keeping the closest eye on this year — if he turns up — will be Lars von Trier, and for all the wrong reasons.

Earlier this year at Cannes, von Trier sabotaged his chances of winning a major award by joking that he was a Nazi and that he sympathized with Adolf Hitler. He has since apologized, but it was still a surprise to find out that the 2,600 members of the European Film Academy had given his latest film, “Melancholia,” eight nominations — more than any other film — including two for von Trier himself, for director and scriptwriter.

“It was a surprise for us too,” says von Trier’s business partner Peter Aalbaek Jensen, who is exec producer on “Melancholia.” “As you know, the film has had a strange career. I was expecting there to be a bit of animosity out there.”

The academy has never shied away from making controversial choices. Last year it awarded Roman Polanski prizes for director and scriptwriter (shared with Robert Harris) for “The Ghost Writer,” which also nabbed the best film award as well as three other honors. This was only months after he was freed from house arrest in Switzerland following the failure of the U.S. authorities to have him extradited for sentencing on charges that he had sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977.

Aalbaek Jensen says the noms show that the academy members were able to distinguish between the film and the comments made by von Trier.

Not that Aalbaek Jensen wishes to distance himself from his friend. He feels the EFA recognition vindicates his faith in von Trier, however problematic that relationship has proved at times.

The two men formed their production company, Zentropa, in 1992, and the past few years have been as tough as any. So the fact that the company has two films nommed for best film at the EFAs — Zentropa also produced Bier’s foreign-language Oscar-winning film, “In a Better World,” which had four noms — proves that it has been a worthwhile journey.

Aalbaek Jensen has worked with Bier for almost as long as with von Trier, and he says such loyalty is unusual for the film business.

“It certainly proves that it pays to stick together and to be loyal. I’m so proud that they have come so far.”

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