Greek film on male ego wins London Film Festival top award

Australian actress Cate Blanchett poses for photographers as she attends the BFI London Film Festival Awards at Banqueting House in central London on Saturday.

Australian actress Cate Blanchett poses for photographers as she attends the BFI London Film Festival Awards at Banqueting House in central London on Saturday.

Greek director Athina Rachel Tsangari’s comedy of manhood “Chevalier” was named best picture at the London Film Festival on Saturday, during a ceremony that honored Cate Blanchett with a major career award.

It was a fitting finale to a festival that sought to showcase the work of talented women both onscreen and behind the camera.

Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski, who headed a prize jury that included actors Chiwetel Ejiofor and Kristin Scott Thomas, said Tsangari’s film about a battle of egos among six men on a yacht was “both a hilarious comedy and a deeply disturbing statement on the condition of Western humanity.”

Tsangari — whose film beat much-praised contenders including child-soldier saga “Beasts of No Nation” and searing Holocaust drama “Son of Saul” — thanked “all of the strong women who have inspired me — and all of the strong men.”

During a black-tie dinner ceremony at London’s 17th-century Banqueting House, Blanchett was awarded the British Film Institute Fellowship by her “Lord of the Rings” co-star Ian McKellen, in recognition of a career that has already netted her two Oscars, for “The Aviator” and “Blue Jasmine.”

The award was preceded by a compilation of clips from Blanchett’s 20-year film career, interspersed with praise from directors including Peter Jackson, Todd Haynes and Richard Eyre.

“It’s a cross between an obituary and a tribute,” Blanchett said. “I feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven.”

Blanchett said she’d never thought of her work as career, or even a choice. Acting, she said, “chose me.”

Blanchett starred in two films at the festival: Haynes’ 1950s-set romance “Carol” and James Vanderbilt’s “Truth,” in which she plays TV news producer Mary Mapes, who was fired over a story about former US President George W. Bush’s military service.

American director Robert Eggers’ Pilgrim horror film “The Witch” won the festival’s first-feature prize. Jennifer Peedom’s Himalayan study “Sherpa” was named best documentary and “An Old Dog’s Diary” by Shai Heredia and Shumona Goel took the short-film trophy.

The 59th annual London festival aimed to put strong women center stage, opening with Sarah Gavron’s political drama “Suffragette” and featuring 46 female-directed films among its 240 features.

The 12-day event brought a slew of awards-worthy female performances, including Blanchett and Rooney Mara in “Carol,” Brie Larson as a mother in an extreme situation in “Room,” and Maggie Smith as a redoubtable eccentric in “The Lady in the Van.”

Founded in 1957 to show the best of the year’s world cinema to a British audience, the London Film Festival has boosted its profile in recent years with bigger movies, more glittering stars and prizes to boost emerging awards-season contenders.

Its prize-winners have a strong track record at the Oscars. The last two London winners, Andrey Zvyagintsev’s “Leviathan” and Pawlikowski’s “Ida,” faced off in this year’s foreign-language Academy Award race. “Ida” won. The festival wrapped up Sunday with Danny Boyle’s “Steve Jobs,” starring Michael Fassbender as the Apple founder.


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