2024 LUX Audience Award

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Together takes a look at the short list for the prestigious prize that celebrates European cinema

The LUX Audience Award is the annual version of an EU Oscar. It is led by the European Parliament and the European Film Academy, in partnership with the European Commission and Europa Cinemas. The award celebrates European cinema and its aim is to raise awareness of Europe’s social, political and cultural issues. Nevertheless, read on!

The films rarely sound like a barrel of laughs, though last year’s selection included the Triangle of Sadness, which included that funny moment when the male model transitions from the unapproachable Balenciaga look to the H&M cheap and happy look –  google it.

Some readers may be more familiar with its predecessor, the LUX Film Prize, established in 2007, which was awarded each year by the European Parliament. Subsequently, the Parliament joined forces with the European Film Academy and introduced the LUX Audience Award in 2020. The relatively new approach involves a selection panel drawn from European film professionals, followed by an audience vote. The panel chooses five films that have to meet a few criteria, including “to have received an award, or notable attention, at a major festival”, which might seem a little circular, but helps to narrow the field; then it’s over to you.

This year’s five nominees are: 20,000 Species of Bees by Spanish director Estibaliz Urresola Solaguren, Fallen Leaves by Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki, On the Adamant by French director Nicolas Philibert, Smoke Sauna Sisterhood by Estonian director Anna Hints, The Teachers’ Lounge, directed by Ilker Çatak and produced in Germany.

20,000 Species of Bees tells the story of an eight-year-old who is suffering because of his gender dysphoria. During a summer in the Basque country, the child confides these worries to relatives and friends. But how can a mother handle her child’s quest for identity when she is herself still dealing with her own ambivalent parental legacy? This is a film that explores the tough subject of ‘transidenity’ with a lot of sensitivity, but also puts out the tough questions that societies need to think over. The director was prompted by the suicide of trans-teenager in the Basque country back in 2018. As is the hallmark of the best films, there are no easy answers.

In Fallen Leaves we meet two lonely souls who are searching for love. Their chance meeting one night in Helsinki is hampered by lost phone numbers, forgotten names, mistaken addresses, alcoholism, and a charming stray dog. The film is the last part of a tetralogy from Aki Kaurismäki’s (Shadows in Paradise, Ariel, and The Match Factory Girl). It is a comedy, but a tragi-comedy – of course. 

On the Adamant is a documentary film about a unique daycare centre floating on the Seine in the heart of Paris. It welcomes adults living with mental disorders, helping them to recover or at least keep up their spirits. The director is Nicolas Philibert of Être et avoir (2002) another film that is a celebration of the gentler side of humanity. You will come out of the cinema with the cockles of your heart warmed and your spirit lifted. It’s a celebration of those qualities that are never given the spotlight they deserve: compassion, kindness, generosity, mutual respect. En bref, all the things that oil the wheels of society and which we need to celebrate in our polarized world.

Smoke Sauna Sisterhood follows a group of Estonian women that gather in the safe darkness of a rural sauna and enjoy frank discussions about everything, including feelings of shame they’ve had about their bodies. Sadly, some degree of body shame remains the case for most women – and increasingly men –  who can’t fit between the wall and the radiator. If this doesn’t make you say “to hell with all that!’’ we don’t know what will. The documentary has already won the prestigious Sundance documentary prize, could it win another?

And finally, The Teachers’ Lounge tells a story about Carla, a young high school teacher, distinguished from her colleagues by her idealism. When a series of unsolved thefts potentially damages one of her students, Carla decides to investigate. However, finding out who the thief is will unleash forces that slide steadily out of control and presents further dilemmas. 

As Hollywood is dominated by prequels, sequels, the inane, the insane and the trite, the Lux selection will remind you that European filmmaking can make it worth going to the cinema again. Do we feel a little chauvinistic, a little bit proud at Together as Europeans? Too damn right we do.