French film ‘Amanda’ takes top prize at Tokyo International Film Festival

by Philip Brasor

Contributing Writer

French director Mikhael Hers’ family drama, “Amanda,” was awarded the Grand Prix at the 31st Tokyo International Film Festival on Friday.

Edoardo De Angelis, meanwhile, took top directing honors for his emotional Italian drama “The Vice of Hope,” a film that also won his wife, Pina Turco, an award for best actress. In the last of the top prizes, Jesper Christensen picked up the best actor award for his portrayal of the proud but poor patriarch of a 19th-century farming family in the Danish film “Before the Frost.”

Although all winners attended the festival’s opening on Oct. 25, many recipients were absent from the closing ceremony, which was held at Ex Theater Roppongi, and had to convey their appreciation via video feed from their respective home countries. The Grand Prix was accepted on behalf of director Hers by French Ambassador Laurent Pic, who has been tasked with sending it back to Paris.

Many of the absent winners are reportedly busy with other projects, although Turco was able to send a brief message of thanks from her sister’s wedding reception, seemingly while sitting in someone’s bedroom.

De Angelis, meanwhile, delivered one of the more effusive speeches of the afternoon in attempting to explain the theme of his film: “That precarious balance between life and death.” As it turns out, it was a theme common to many of the films in the Competition section, if not the festival as a whole.

Christensen sent a video message to what he described as “one of my favorite film countries in the whole world.” His director, Michael Noer, accepted the actor’s trophy as well as the Special Jury Prize, the de facto second place award, for the same film, which Noer said was written for Christensen, a veteran European actor who has appeared in everything from art house hits to “James Bond” features.

“I thank him for playing a version of my late father,” Noer said. “He gave a portrayal of a certain type of man who was important in my life, even though this character lived more than a century ago.”

“Amanda,” a film that depicts a fragile, ad hoc Paris family torn apart by a terrorist act, also won the screenplay award, occasioning Hers to make two videos from Paris.

In accepting the awards on the director’s behalf, Pic told the audience that Hers is considered “the most Japanese director in France.”

Chinese films ruled the Asian category. Director Huang Huang won The Spirit of Asia Award for “Wushu Orphan,” a film about a year in the life of a martial arts school for youth in rural China. The Asian Future Best Film Award went to “A First Farewell,” a movie about the Uighurs of western China. Director Lina Wang specifically thanked “the little girl who appears in the film.”

“She was really hoping we would win this award,” Wang said.

Two directors were cited in the Cinema Splash category, which honors Japanese independent cinema: Masaharu Take for the semicomic mystery, “The Gun,” and Seiji Tanaka for his debut potboiler, “Melancholic.” The category’s best film award went to Katsumi Nojiri’s “Lying to Mom,” a bittersweet look into the world of a hikikomori (shut in). Veteran director Junji Sakamoto’s small-town drama, “Another World,” starring former SMAP star Goro Inagaki, won the Audience Award.

In keeping with the absentee character of the ceremony, Ralph Fiennes was not around to pick up the Award for Best Artistic Contribution for his third directorial effort, “The White Crow,” a biopic of ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev, even though he was the default face of the festival while he was there. His producer, Gabrielle Tana, assured the audience that the British actor “really enjoyed his time in Tokyo,” but had other obligations.