After Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache (“The Intouchables”), Isabelle Huppert (“Elle”) and Juliette Binoche (“Let the Sunshine In”), it was Olivier Assayas’s turn to receive the French Cinema Award from the film promotion org UniFrance on Sunday.
Assayas was celebrated by UniFrance’s president Serge Toubiana and newly-appointed managing director Daniela Elstner for his contribution to making French cinema shine abroad. The swanky ceremony, hosted at the BB Blanche restaurant in Paris, gathered the actors Nora Hamzawi and Vincent Macaigne, who both starred in his 2018 film “Non Fiction,” as well as many industry figures and journalists.
Assayas, who most recently directed “Wasp Network,” a Cuba-set political thriller starring Penelope Cruz and Edgar Ramirez, dedicated his French Cinema Award to Binoche whom he directed in “Summer Hours,” “Clouds of Sils Maria” and “Non Fiction.”
“My recognition abroad has so much to do with the fact that I did three movies (with Juliette Binoche) who was already honoured in similar circumstances (by UniFrance),” said Assayas. “I’m pretty sure that those movies became whatever they became thanks to her, thanks to her international fame; I also think of Isabelle Huppert who was in ‘Les Destinées Sentimentales,'” said Assayas.
The helmer praised his longtime producer Charles Gillibert who not only produced his French movies, but also made possible his “strange hybrid English-speaking French movies like “Clouds of Sils Maria” and “Personal Shopper.”
In his speech, Assayas spoke about the influence of the French New Wave on his work and on French cinema in general. “I think that French cinema would never be whatever it is without French New Wave because it was not only about reinventing French cinema, it was about giving an idea of free cinema to the whole world,” said Assayas.
The director said “French cinema has something to say to every single film culture, which is trust your intuition, don’t trust what the industry expects from you, trust your imagination, don’t trust what screenwriting manuals tell you.”
Toubiana, who met Assayas over four decades ago when he was in charge of the well-respected publication “Les Cahiers du Cinema” alongside Serge Dany and played a role in establishing Assayas’s name abroad, described the filmmaker’s body of work as “prolific, rich, contrasting, and always pulsating.”
“What strikes me in his films is his capacity to embrace the world from east to west, to move forward fast, pulsing with an essential energy which gives our chaotic world a beauty, even if hat beauty is often tragic or desperate,” said Toubiana, who also reminded that “Non Fiction” (repped in international markets by Playtime) sold more tickets abroad than in France in 2019.
The award ceremony was hosted as part of UniFrance Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in Paris, a five-day showcase which wraps Monday.