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The Césars go Hollywood

Latest update : 2008-02-25

After the curtain fell on the César awards for French cinema, three of the nominated films’ crews headed for Los Angeles. 'La môme' star Marion Cotillard won the award for best actress, showing French cinema still makes headlines away from home.


“The way things are going, aside from wheat and auto parts, America's biggest export is now the Oscar.”


One wonders if Billy Cristal, frequent host of the Academy Awards, would have made the same remark about the Césars - France’s answer to the Oscars for its prolific film industry


Despite a world cinema category, the César awards* is an event which is hardly followed outside France.


The reasons are evident: awards like the Oscars and the BAFTA’s (the British ‘Oscars’) showcase an array of American and British films with loyal audiences worldwide. The televised ceremonies feature Hollywood stars, a surefire strategy to attract international sponsors.


Until very recently, French cinema, after its wartime golden era and the 60’s New Wave, was struggling for recognition across the Atlantic. At a time when production values are veering towards financial profit, the French cinema industry has come under pressure to make its products more “international”.


Merging France’s “auteur”-oriented cinema with production values imported from the US is not an easy formula. But, at least for the industry magnates, the results are satisfactory.


Films like “Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain” (Amélie from Montmartre, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001)  and “La marche de l’empereur” (The March of the Penguins, Luc Jacquet, 2005) passed the ultimate litmus test : huge box-office returns combined with Academy Award nominations (and a win, for the latter). French film producers were now ready for the big game.


For the Oscars this year, no less than three French films have been nominated in important categories. Four nominations for “Le Scaphandre et le Papillon” (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Julien Schnabel, 2007); 3 for “La Môme”, (La vie en rose, Olivier Dahan, 2007) and one for “Persepolis” (Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Parronaud, 2007). And if that was not enough, Marion Cotillard bagged the Best Actress award in the Golden Globes for playing Edith Piaf in “La Môme,” raising her hopes for a possible Oscar – the first ever in the category for a French actress.




Césars: The French Oscars playing safe?


The exponential recognition of popular French cinema makes this year’s César awards an event that transcends the French cinema industry. Besides “La Môme,” “Le Scaphandre et le Papillon” and “Persepolis,” Marillon Cotillard is assured of winning the Best Actress award.


Nevertheless, it is unfortunate that international media attention for the Césars is confined to the three films above. Two other big nominees for the Césars are “Un Secret” (A Secret, Claude Miller, 2007) with 11 nominations, and “La graine et le mullet”  (Abdellatif Kechiche, 2007) with five nominations. The latter in particular, merits special mention.  Kechiche, who already won the César for best film for “l’Esquive” (Games of Love and Chance) in 2005, returns with another portrayal of the North African community in France. The film is almost certain to win the Best New Talent for debutant actress Hafsia Herzi, who charmed the Venice Festival jury in 2007.


Another notable candidate is “L’avocat de la terreur” (Terror’s advocate, Barbet Schroeder, 2007), a critically acclaimed documentary on Jacques Verges, controversial French lawyer who defended Nazi war criminals, and recently appeared as defense counsel for ex-Khmer Rouge chief Khieu Samphan. The film is this year’s favourite to win the Best Documentary prize


Lastly, for the best Foreign Film category, “4 luni, 3 saptamani si 2 zile” (4 months 3 weeks, 2 days, Cristian Mungiu, 2007) the Romanian drama on abortion that won this year’s Golden Palm at the Cannes Festival, competes alongside more popular favourites like “Das Lieben der Anderen” (The Lives of Others, Florian Henckel-Donnersmarck, 2006) and the latest David Cronenberg offering, “Eastern Promises” (2007).


As the curtain goes up on this year’s César ceremony at the Théâtre de Châtelet in Paris, one wonders if the César’s voters will play safe by showering accolades on French films already marked out by the Oscars or the Golden Globes, or transcend convention by favouring works which have escaped the international spotlight.


*(named after sculptor César Baldini, and also a homage to French actor Raimu who plays César in Marcel Pagnol’s trilogy “Fanny, Marius and César”)

Date created : 2008-02-22