Les Miserables: Best Picture, Cesar Awards; Polanski is Best Director

The French Film Academy ignored street protestors and online critics to honor Roman Polanski its top directing honor Friday night.

The controversial director took the Cesar Award for Best Director for his latest film, An Officer and a Spy. Polanski and co-writer Robert Harris also won the best adapted screenplay prize for the film and Pascaline Chavanne took the Cesar for best costume design.

Polanski was not at the gala to accept his honor, having pulled out of attending the ceremony, saying he feared a “public lynching” by feminist protestors if he went. On Friday, An Officer And A Spy producer Alain Goldman and star Jean Dujardin also announced they also wouldn’t be attending the Cesars. Goldman told AFP “an escalation of inappropriate and violent language and behavior” towards Polanski was the reason.

Anaïs Demoustier won the first Cesar of her career, taking best actress for her role as a brilliant young philosopher assisting a local politician in crisis in Nicolas Pariser’s Alice and the Mayor.

Roschdy Zem took the best actor Cesar for his role as a police captain in Arnaud Desplechin’s crime drama Oh Mercy!

Les Miserables

The first award of the night went to Alexis Manenti as best male newcomer, for his role as the racist cop Chris in Ladj Ly’s Les Misérables. The film also picked up the public Cesar, voted on by the French-going public. Flora Volpelière picked up the best editing honor for her fast-paced cutting on Les Misérables.

Lyna Khoudri took the best female newcomer honor for Mounia Meddour’s Papicha, in which she plays a young student in 1990s Algiers determined to put on a fashion show despite the threat from Islamic extremists to shut it down. Papicha also took the best first film award for Meddour.

Jérémy Clapin and Guillaume Laurant won best adapted screenplay for their script to the Netflix animated feature I Lost My Body. The film also won best original score for Dan Levy, also known as the co-founder, with Olivia Merilahti, of Finnish-French indie pop band The Dø.

Actress Fanny Ardant took home another Cesar, this time for best supporting actress for her role in La Belle Époque, Nicolas Bedos’ romantic comedy about a man who tries to escape his life’s problems by using a service that allows him to live in the past. The film also won best production design for Stéphane Rosenbaum.

Best supporting actor went to Swann Arlaud for his portrayal of a survivor of child sexual abuse in Francois Ozon’s By the Grace of God.

Best Sound went to The Wolf’s Call team of Nicolas Cantin, Thomas Desjonquères, Raphaël Mouterde, Olivier Goinard and Randy Thom.

Yolande Zauberman won best documentary for M, an investigation into sexual abuse in an ultra-orthodox community in Israel.

This year’s Cesars have been dogged with controversy over director Roman Polanski. His latest film, An Officer and a Spy leads the nominations, with 12 nods, including for best picture and best director.

One of France’s leading feminist organizations, Osez le féminisme! (Dare feminism!) held a protest outside the Salle Pleyel in Paris where the Cesar ceremony was held, calling on demonstrators to attend via a call on their website and Facebook page. They were joined by several other activist groups. They are outraged that the French academy is honoring Polanski, who they see as a sex criminal. The protestors, who carried banners inscribed with the names of filmmakers suspected of sexual assault or rape, including Polanski and Luc Besson, were dispersed by police.

Polanski, who’s 87, has been a fugitive from U.S. justice since 1978 for the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl. In recent years a number of other women have come forward accusing Polanski of sexual assault, most involving alleged incidents dating back decades. Polanski has denied all the new allegations against him.

The French Film Academy’s board of directors abruptly announced their collective resignation, complaining about the lack of diversity among this year’s nominees and a general lack of transparency, particularly fiscal transparency, within the organization.

The board’s resignation was triggered by an open letter to French newspaper Le Monde, signed by some 400 of the country’s leading filmmakers, which called the Academy’s leadership dysfunctional and “a vestige of an era that we would like to be over, that of an elitist and closed system.”

The Academy said it would hold a general assembly of its members after this year’s Cesars to elect a new board.