Golden Globes weekend was an opportunity for Hollywood to engage in an orgy of parties, networking and awards ceremonies. And there were even a couple of occasions for foreign talent to seize the spotlight.
World cinema occupies a highly specialised niche in LA’s awards season which is essentially one long parade of Hollywood movie stars in expensive clothing. My favourite moment at the Golden Globes last Sunday was seeing a rabid female fan grabbing Christian Bale as he exited the Beverly Hilton ballroom and thrusting her disposable camera into the hands of Olivier Assayas to take her picture. Was she aware that her coerced photographer was one of the world’s finest directors? Of course not.
Globes host Ricky Gervais even quipped when introducing the category for foreign language films, “nobody in America cares about them.”
It’s not true, of course. There is a small but loyal following for international movies in the US but the foreign language categories of the Globes and the Academy Awards are hardly headline news when the red carpet is filled with the likes of Justin Bieber, P Diddy and Angelina Jolie.
Still there were two events in LA last weekend where world cinema was front and centre. I chaired a symposium on Saturday afternoon for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and the American Cinematheque with four of the five nominated foreign language directors.
Four fascinating, highly distinctive film-makers – Susanne Bier, Luca Guadagnino, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Aleksei Uchitel – discussed the global nature of making their movies with candour and humour.
Indeed, all of the films blended cultural and narrative elements from different nationalities. InA Better World is a Danish film set between Denmark and Africa. I Am Love is an Italian film about a Russian immigrant in Milan played by an English actress. Biutiful is a story set in Spain by a Mexican director and crew. The Edge is a Russian film about the relationship between Germany and Russia after World War II and features a good percentage of German dialogue. The fifth nominated film – Radu Mihaileanu’s The Concert – is a French film by a Romanian director about Russians in Paris.
It’s about exploring “otherness” according to Inarritu. “I don’t know if it’s extremely important to find a nationality. It should be universal. It’s like with painters. When it’s a Spanish painter painting in Paris with Italian materials, do you ask where that painting is from?”
Bier added: “I’m interested in the recognition of a world, not just being national but global, addressing how the vast outside world blurs into your own world.”
And on Saturday night at the Los Angeles Film Critics Association dinner, world cinema was front and centre alongside The Social Network and Toy Story 3. Assayas shared the best director award with David Fincher, and echoed Inarritu and Bier in talking of the global nature of his film-making.
All four acting winners were international. It was inspiring to see veterans Kim Hye-Ja from Korea and Jacki Weaver from Australia accept their awards for Mother and Animal Kingdom respectively, with a recorded message from Paris from supporting actor Niels Arestrup (A Prophet).
Then there was Colin Firth whose impeccably English grammar and wit stood out at both LAFCA and the Globes.
Actually a smattering of Brits is de rigueur during a frenzied party-packed LA awards weekend like this one. Firth, Tilda Swinton, Helena Bonham Carter and Helen Mirren are foreigners beloved by Hollywood, and LA native Mirren even made an LA-style onstage blunder when she called The UK Film Council the “British Film Council”.
And if, in general, Hollywood’s season of self-congratulation is strikingly insular, perhaps that’s how it should be. It’s a time for the world’s largest film industry to assemble and celebrate its own without apology. Whatever occasion to draw attention to ambitious world cinema within that context should be gratefully embraced.