Runners-up are Resnais' 'Lips,' Lvovsky's 'Sentiments'

PARIS — Lucas Belvaux’s three-part, three-genre saga known as “The Trilogy” was voted French film of the year by the French Union of Film Critics, while Gus van Sant’s “Elephant” drew foreign pic kudos.

Much as with “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, the three films written and directed by Belvaux were all made at the same time. But unlike “LOTR,” comedy “Un couple epatant” (An Amazing Couple); thriller “Cavale” (On the Run), starring Belvaux as a terrorist; and romance “Apres la vie” (After Life) may be viewed in any order.

An annual distinction since 1946, the Prix Melies, awarded at a gala dinner Thursday, was chosen by the org’s 200-plus members from among the 187 French films released in Gaul in 2003 (up from 159 in 2002).

“It was hard to fund because most investors didn’t believe in the concept,” said a delighted Belvaux of the trilogy released last January. “And it was costly for people to go see it because they had to pay for three tickets and come back to the theater three times. But, thanks to critical support, it worked.”

First two runners-up are Alain Resnais’ filmed operetta “Not on the Lips” and Noemie Lvovsky’s adultery romp “Les Sentiments.” A month earlier, latter tied with “The Trilogy” for the juried Prix Louis Delluc as French film of the year.

Gus van Sant’s “Elephant” won the Prix Moussinac, which honors foreign film of the year. Van Sant sent a message calling the film’s success in France — where it won the Palme d’Or after preeming at Cannes — “truly amazing.”

Some 336 films from 44 countries were eligible and, for the second year in a row, half the foreign releases were U.S. productions.

Two-part generational saga “Best of Youth,” by Italy’s Marco Tullio Giordana, placed second; in third came “Good Bye Lenin!” from Germany’s Wolfgang Becker.

“Mystic River”, “Kill Bill Vol. 1″ and “Gangs of New York” placed seventh, eighth and ninth, respectively.

Julie Bertuccelli’s “Depuis qu’Otar est parti” (Since Otar Left) won first-film honors in a field of 51 French contenders. Thesp Esther Gorintin, 91, who plays a matriarch whose love for her son and for France prompts her daughter and granddaughter to carry out an elaborate charade, was on hand for the accolade.

Sylvain Chomet’s near-wordless animated feature “Les Triplettes de Belleville” was runner-up.

Although the film winners have all won other awards, Laurette Polmanss couldn’t have been more surprised about the short-film prize for her “Anna, 3 kilos 2.” “Hardly anybody’s seen this film because it was turned down flat by 80% of the festivals I submitted it to,” admitted the director.

Le Syndicat Francais de la Critique de Cinema programs and administers the Intl. Critics Week at Cannes. This year will be the 43rd lineup of the festival’s oldest sidebar.

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