- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 3, 2006


The German film “Das Leben der Anderen” (The Lives Of Others) and Pedro Almodovar’s “Volver” stole the show Saturday at the European Film Awards, the Continent’s version of the Oscars.

The drama by 33-year-old newcomer Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck won the top prize, besting the hotly-tipped “Volver” and “The Wind That Shakes The Barley,” by the gritty British director Ken Loach.

Mr. von Donnersmarck also won the writing prize for his screenplay focusing on an officer of the East German Stasi secret police who is assigned to spy on a leading dramatist and actress and gradually becomes fascinated by the couple’s life.

“I think, in a way, all of the world was torn apart by communism in the way that our country was torn apart,” Mr. von Donnersmarck told the news agency Agence France-Presse. “I think it tells a very European story,” he said.

His homegrown star Ulrich Muehe won the best actor award for his portrayal of Stasi officer Gerd Wiesler during the dying days of the East German communist regime in the 1980s.

“Das Leben der Anderen” and “Volver,” which have been submitted for consideration as nominees in Oscar’s best foreign film category, had received six nominations for Saturday’s European Film Awards ceremony in Warsaw.

The event combined glitz and a highbrow art-house flavor, and was dedicated to Polish cinematic giant Krzysztof Kieslowski. The director, who died in 1996, won the first European Film Award 19 years ago.

Mr. Almodovar, 57, won the best director award for “Volver,” which follows his trademark black comedy style and explores the interplay between mothers and daughters, adultery and incest, murder and cover-ups across three generations of an oddball family. His star Penelope Cruz received the best actress award for her portrayal of Raimunda, a role that has won Miss Cruz alternative fame because the actress wore prosthetic buttocks in the film to amplify her slight frame and give her a heavier gait.

“I want to dedicate this award to the wonderful actresses that surrounded me, and who represent the incredible women that surrounded me when I was a child,” said Mr. Almodovar, who set the film in his Spanish home region of La Mancha.

His composer Alberto Iglesias won the top music award, and the movie also received a European audience’s prize, chosen in an Internet vote.

Mr. Almodovar last won the best movie award, as well as the director and screenplay prizes, in 2002 for “Hable con ella” (“Talk to Her”). He also won best film in 1999 for “Todo sobre mi madre” (“All About My Mother”).

The night’s biggest disappointment was, perhaps, for Mr. Loach and the team that made “The Wind That Shakes The Barley,” a hard-hitting story of two brothers who take up arms together during Ireland’s 1920s struggle for independence from Britain and end up on opposing sides during the ensuing civil war.

Mr. Loach won best film in 1991 for “Riff-Raff” and 1995 for “Land and Freedom.”

But his latest work only picked up one award, for Barry Ackroyd’s cinematography —and that prize was awarded jointly to Mr. Almodovar’s cinematographer, Jose Luis Alcaine.

Mr. Loach’s Hollywood star, Irishman Cillian Murphy, had been nominated as best actor for both his role as the uncompromising Damien in “The Wind That Shakes The Barley” and as the 1970s transvestite cabaret singer Patrick “Kitten” Braden in Neil Jordan’s movie “Breakfast On Pluto,” which also was up for best film.

The other best film nominations were the controversial “The Road To Guantanamo” by Britain’s Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross, and “Grbavica,” by Jasmila Zbanic, which tackles the harrowing subject of wartime rape in Bosnia and which won the top Golden Bear prize at the Berlin Film Festival in February.

The academy also presented a lifetime achievement award to Roman Polanski.

The European Film Awards began in 1988, and were spearheaded by top European directors including Ingmar Bergman and Wim Wenders. Winners are selected by members of the 1,700-strong European Film Academy, whose members include actors, critics, directors and producers.

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