Flanked on either side by members of the country’s political and cultural elite, actor Melvil Poupaud claimed the French Cinema Award at a ceremony held at France’s Ministry of Culture on Thursday.
Awarded by publicly-funded film promotional organization Unifrance, the French Cinema prize is meant to honor those filmmakers, actors and producers that have helped Gallic cinema resonate on the global stage. Previous winners include Virginie Efira, Juliette Binoche, and Olivier Assayas.
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Reflecting on his four decades in front of the lens – a winding path that kicked off at age 10 with a key role in Raúl Ruiz’s 1983 fantasy “City of Pirates,” and has since paired the star with local auteurs Justine Triet, Arnaud Desplechin, and Francois Ozon, as well global standouts like James Ivory, Xavier Dolan and the Wachowskis – Poupaud spoke in earnest and self-effacing terms about his winding career.
“Right from the start, I thought that an actor should not only be recognized in his own country, but that his choices and his films should be exported, should find an echo abroad,” he said. “And thanks to such trips, I was also able to become something more than a local product — like Camembert, for example.”
A teeming room, filled with family, friends, press, politicos, admirers and close collaborators like Chiara Mastroianni and Benjamin Biolay were eager to show their support in turn.
“Melvil knows cinema inside and out,” director Valerie Donzelli (who directed Poupaud in last year’s Cannes acclaimed “Just the Two of Us”) told Variety. “He understands mise-en-scene and can improve it. In that way he’s a true creative partner – you don’t make the same film with Melvil as you would with any other actor.”
“He embodies past and future all at once,” added filmmaker Nicolas Saada, who is developing his next film with Poupaud in mind. “Every time you see him onscreen, you wonder what will he do next? How will he react and overtake the screen? While at the same time, he is imbued with all his previous experience – as he did start out very young, so you sometimes get the impression that he has more experience, more knowledge, more background than people ten or fifteen years older than him.
“He’s that rarest of actors,” Saada continued. “A familiar face who is always ready to surprise.”
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