Resnais seizes 7 Cesars

'Chanson' big winner at top French kudos show

PARIS — Alain Resnais’ musical comedy “On Connait la Chanson (Same Old Song)” was the big winner at the 23rd Cesar awards, the French equivalent of the Oscars.

The pic, which has taken in over $12 million at the French box office, walked off with seven Cesars, including best film and best actor for Andre Dussollier.

This was the third time that a Resnais pic has won France’s top film prize, following from “Providence” in 1978 and “Smoking/No Smoking” in 1994. But the 75-year-old helmer missed out on the coveted director nod, which went to Luc Besson, for his megabuck sci-fi adventurer “The Fifth Element.”

Besson, who spends much of his time in the U.S., was on hand to lift the trophy, remarking wryly that it was pleasant to fi-nally get the prize having been nominated unsuccessfully for best film on four occasions (“Subway” in 1986, “The Big Blue” in 1989, “Nikita” in 1991 and “Leon” in 1995.) Last year, Besson won the best director Lumiere de Paris (the French Golden Globe) for “The Fifth Element.”

Saturday’s awards turned out to be a personal triumph for writing and acting partners Jean-Pierre Bacri and Agnes Jaoui. They won the supporting actor and supporting actress Cesars as well as script for “On Connait la Chanson.” Ironically, the duo were the presenters of the script prize, and so simply handed their Cesar to themselves. The writing pair now has three Cesars, having won for their penmanship on “Un Air de Famille” last year and “Smoking/No Smoking” in 1994.

Best actress Cesar provided a crumb of consolation for Robert Guediguian and the team that brought “Marius et Jeannette” to the screen. Despite seven nominations and a run at the box office which has seen this $1 million Marseille-based love story gross $11 million, only actress Ariane Ascaride got rewarded — a decision that brought the only tears of the evening from the respected cinema and legit thesp.

Best first film proved a popular choice as comic Alain Chabat strode onto the stage to pick up his Cesar for “Didier,” which Chabat is to remake in English for Miramax.

Biggest hand of the evening went to Michael Douglas, who brought the house to its feet with a no-notes French speech thanking the locals for his Cesar d’Honneur. Clint Eastwood got a similar award, handed to him by veteran Nouvelle Vague director Jean-Luc Godard; but Eastwood’s carefully prepared and written Gallic speech lost some of its effect when the actor/director failed to locate his glasses.

Never afraid to use a big media moment to fight its corner, the film industry took time out from the awards to give the floor to an impassioned plea form Brigitte Fossey for France to stand its ground and defend culture in the on-going Multilateral Invest-ment Agreement, which is being prepped by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

British brass-band movie “Brassed Off” added best foreign film Cesar to the Lumiere it won last December in the same category.

CESAR 1998 MAIN WINNERS

Film — “On Connait la Chanson,” Alain Resnais.

Director — Luc Besson, “The Fifth Element.”

Actor — Andre Dussollier, “On Connait La Chanson.”

Actress — Ariane Ascaride, “Marius et Jeannette.”

Supporting Actor — Jean-Pierre Bacri, “On Connait la Chanson.”

Supporting Actress — Agnes Jaoui, “On Connait la Chanson.”

Young Actor — Stanislas Merhar, “Nettoyage a Sec.”

Young Actress — Emma de Caunes, “Frere.”

First Film — “Didier,” Alain Chabat.

Script — Jean-Pierre Bacri and Agnes Jaoui, “On Connait la Chanson.”

Foreign Film — “Brassed Off,” Mark Harman.

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