Greek director Athina Rachel Tsangari’s comedy of manhood “Chevalier” was named best picture at the London Film Festival on Saturday, during a ceremony that honored Cate Blanchett with a major career award.
It was a fitting finale to a festival that sought to showcase the work of talented women both onscreen and behind the camera. Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski, who headed a prize jury that included actors Chiwetel Ejiofor and Kristin Scott Thomas, said Tsangari’s film about a battle of egos among six men on a yacht was “both a hilarious comedy and a deeply disturbing statement on the condition of Western humanity.”
Tsangari — whose film beat much-praised contenders including child-soldier saga “Beasts of No Nation” and searing Holocaust drama “Son of Saul” — thanked “all of the strong women who have inspired me — and all of the strong men.”
During a black-tie dinner ceremony at London’s 17th-century Banqueting House, Blanchett was awarded the British Film Institute Fellowship by her “Lord of the Rings” co-star Ian McKellen, in recognition of a career that has already netted her two Oscars, for “The Aviator” and “Blue Jasmine.”
The award was preceded by a compilation of clips from Blanchett’s 20-year film career, interspersed with praise from directors including Peter Jackson, Todd Haynes and Richard Eyre. “It’s a cross between an obituary and a tribute,” Blanchett said. “I feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven.”
Blanchett said she’d never thought of her work as career, or even a choice. Acting, she said, “chose me.” Blanchett starred in two films at the festival: Haynes’ 1950s-set lesbian romance “Carol” and James Vanderbilt’s “Truth,” in which she plays TV news producer Mary Mapes, who was fired over a story about former U.S. President George W. Bush’s military service.
American director Robert Eggers’ Pilgrim horror film “The Witch” won the festival’s first-feature prize. Jennifer Peedom’s Himalayan study “Sherpa” was named best documentary and “An Old Dog’s Diary” by Shai Heredia and Shumona Goel took the short-film trophy.
The 59th annual London festival aimed to put strong women center stage, opening with Sarah Gavron’s political drama “Suffragette” and featuring 46 female-directed films among its 240 features. The 12-day event brought a slew of awards-worthy female performances, including Blanchett and Rooney Mara as clandestine lovers in “Carol,” Brie Larson as a mother in an extreme situation in “Room,” and Maggie Smith as a redoubtable eccentric in “The Lady in the Van.”