“Papicha,” a touching story of Algerian women fighting for their freedom by Mounia Meddour won both best first film and best female newcomer for actress Lyna Khoudri at the French Oscars on Friday.
The 27-year-old French-Algerian star won big at the Cesars for her portrayal of 18-year-old university student Nedjma, who finds herself struggling to continue her passion for fun and fashion as conservative forces sweep Algeria.
Meanwhile, director Roman Polanski won best director for “An Officer and a Spy” at the fractious ceremony that ended in walkouts and recrimination in Paris, AFP reported.
The entire French academy had been forced to resign earlier this month amid fury that the veteran — wanted in the US for the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl in 1977 — had topped the list of nominations.
Protesters chanting “Lock up Polanski!” tried to storm the theater where the ceremony was being held before being pushed back by police firing tear gas.
And France’s Culture Minister Franck Riester had warned that giving the maker of “Rosemary’s Baby” a Cesar would be “symbolically bad given the stance we must take against sexual and sexist violence.”
But Polanski won two awards, best adapted screenplay and best director — with the latter prompting Adele Haenel, who was nominated for best actress for “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” to storm out, crying “shame!“
The French press had dubbed the event “The Cesars of Anguish,” with Le Parisien daily mocking up a movie poster of Hitchcock’s “Vertigo.”
And the ceremony lived up to its billing.
It was the absent figure of Polanski which caused most unease, with a presenter only daring to mumble his name when he opened the envelope for his first win.
The publicity campaign for Polanski’s movie was halted last year after another woman, photographer Valentine Monnier, claimed that she had also been raped by the director in 1975.
But that did not stop it becoming a box office hit in France.
Polanski had told AFP that he had decided to stay away from the ceremony to protect his family and his team from abuse.
“The activists brandish the figure of 12 women who I am supposed to have molested half a century ago,” he said.
“These fantasies of sick minds are treated as established fact,” he complained.