Clooney, George: Honorary Cesar Awards 2017

Paul Verhoeven’s Elle won best picture and best actress for Oscar nominee Isabelle Huppert at the 42nd Cesar Awards, the French Oscars.

Out of 16th Cesar nominations, Huppert had only won once for her performance in Claude Chabrol’s “La Ceremonie.” Huppert has been on a laureled path since “Elle” competed at Cannes: she notably won the Golden Globe for best actress in a drama. Set in France and produced by Said Ben Said and Michel Merkt, “Elle” has been described as a powerful rape-revenge thriller laced with dark humor. The movie was acquired by Sony Classics at Cannes.

The biggest surprise of the night was Xavier Dolan as best director and editing with “It’s Only the End of the World,” which also earned Gaspard Ulliel the best actor prize. Dolan is currently shooting “The Death and Life of John F. Donovan” in Prague.

Dolan won over Verhoeven (“Elle”), Houda Benyamina (“Divines”), François Ozon (“Frantz”), Anne Fontaine (“Les Innocentes”), Bruno Dumont, “Slack Bay,” and Nicole Garcia’s “From the Land of Moon.”

George Clooney, who received the honorary Cesar, rocked the boat with a political speech calling out President Donald Trump. Welcomed on stage with a standing ovation, Clooney said Trump has exploited rather than created the current climate of fear and uncertainty in the U.S.

“As citizens of the world, we’re going to have to work harder and harder not to let hate win. … We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine and remember that we are not descended from fearful men,” said Clooney, concluding his speech with a quote from Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

Clooney received the honorary Cesar award from the hands of his pal Jean Dujardin, the Oscar-winning actor from “The Artist.” The pair drew some laugher when Clooney asked Dujardin, whose English is limited, to translate his speech in France.

Clooney attended the ceremony with his pregnant wife, Amal Clooney, and sat in the front row between Alain Terzian, the president of the Academy of Cinema Arts and Techniques, and Dujardin.

Houda Benyamina’s directorial debut, “Divines,” which won the Camera d’Or in Cannes and earned a Golden Globe nomination, won best first film, female newcomer for Oulaya Amamra, and supporting actress for Déborah Lukumuena. A politically-minded and contempo friendship tale, “Divines” stars Amamra and Lukumuena as two friends determined to make money fast in order to escape to a better life.

Conceived by Benyamina following the 2005 riots that erupted near Paris, “Divines” was acquired by Netflix following its premiere at Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight.

Ken Loach’s Cannes’ Palme d’Or-winning “I, Daniel Blake” won best foreign film prize. “I, Daniel Blake,” a contemporary social drama about an ailing carpenter fighting to stay on welfare in the U.K., beat out Maren Ade’s “Toni Erdmann, which is vying for best foreign-language film at the Oscars and was a favorite the win the Cesar nod.

Other foreign-language nominees were Kenneth Lonergan’s “Manchester by the Sea,” which is up for best picture at the Oscars; Dolan’s “It’s Only the End of the World,” from Canada; Cristian Mungiu’s “Graduation,” from Romania; Kleber Mendonça Filho’s “Aquarius,” from Portugal; and Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s “The Unknown Girl,” from Belgium.

The ceremony did not have a president, after the controversy and protests which led Polish director Roman Polanski to give up the honorary role. Polanski had been appointed to preside by the Academy of Cinema Arts and Techniques.

Claude Barras’s “My Life as a Courgette,” which is also competing for an Oscar, won best animated feature over Sébastien Laudenbach’s “La Jeune Fille Sans Mains” and Michael Dudok De Wit’s “La Tortue Rouge,” another animated feature Oscar nominee.