Greek Director Wins Best Film

LONDON — Greek director Athina Rachel Tsangari’s comedy of manhood Chevalier was named Best Picture at the London Film Festival on Oct. 17, 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.”

Founded in 1957 to show the best of the year’s world cinema to a British audience, the London Film Festival has boosted its profile in recent years with bigger movies, more glittering stars and prizes to boost emerging awards-season contenders.

Its prize-winners have a strong track record at the Oscars. The last two London winners, Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan and Pawlikowski’s Ida, faced off in this year’s foreign-language Academy Award race. Ida won.

The festival wraps up Oct. 18 with Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs, starring Michael Fassbender as the Apple founder.

(JILL LAWLESS)