'Bye Bye Morons' is top winner at French Cesar Awards

The comedy drama took home seven awards in an evening charged with protest against cinema closures in the country

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French director Albert Dupontel won best film and best director at France's equivalent of the Oscars, Les Cesars, on Friday at a politically charged evening marked by anger over the continued closure of cinemas.

Dupontel's comedy drama Bye Bye Morons (Adieu les cons), about a seriously ill woman searching for her child, was the big winner on the night, taking home seven awards.

The country has seen mounting protests in recent days over the closure of cultural sites, with several theatres occupied by activists and students.

That frustration was centre stage at Friday's awards, with actress Corinne Masiero stripping naked with the words "No culture, no future" written across her body as she presented the costume award. Masiero also had the same words written on her jacket as she arrived to the event.

Actress Corinne Masiero poses on the red carpet before the start of the 46th Cesar Awards ceremony at the Olympia concert hall in Paris, France, March 12, 2021. Thomas Samson/Pool via REUTERS
Actress Corinne Masiero poses on the red carpet before the start of the 46th Cesar Awards ceremony at the Olympia concert hall in Paris, France. Reuters

Others used the stage to confront the government over its decision to keep cinemas shut since October, even as most other businesses have reopened.

"My children can go to Zara but not the cinema... it's incomprehensible," said Stephane Demoustier as he picked up the Cesar for best screenplay for The Girl With a Bracelet.

The mood was set from the opening monologue, as host Marina Fois launched a scathing attack on Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot.

"The minister hasn't done nothing... Madame Bachelot, you released a book with your recipe for pasta and gorgonzola," the actress joked, before striking a sad note to conclude: "What we miss is what unites us, the emotions that we experience together."

Also hanging heavy over the ceremony was the memory of 2020's decision to award veteran Polish director Roman Polanski -- accused of multiple sexual assaults and the statutory rape of a girl aged 13 -- and which led to stars walking out and police teargassing protesters outside.

The entire Cesar academy board resigned in the build-up to the 2020 ceremony because of the uproar over Polanski's nominations for his film An Officer and a Spy, which many saw as proof of the French industry's failure to respond to the #MeToo movement.

This year's first awards signalled that the academy was keen to embrace calls for greater ethnic diversity, with the most promising actor and actress awards going to Jean-Pascal Zadi and Fathia Youssouf.

Zadi's film, Tout simplement noir, plays on racist cliches about black people in France, while Youssouf, 14, won for her part in the controversial Netflix film Mignonnes about teenage girls caught between the pressures of Senegalese society and social media.

French-Tunisian actor Sami Bouajila also won the best actor award for his role in A Son (Bik Eneich: Un fils) by Mehdi Barsaoui.  Bouajila had won the best actor award for his performance in the film at the Venice Film Festival in 2019.

Elsewhere, the foreign film award went to Danish cult favourite Thomas Vinterberg for Another Round starring Mads Mikkelsen as a binge-drinking high schoolteacher.

There were no major controversies to match Polanski's inclusion last year.

Much of the drama this year has been behind the scenes, as the academy scrambled to rebuild itself and its reputation with a new board under Veronique Cayla, former head of cultural channel Arte, and director Eric Toledano.