Chosen pic's eligibility questioned

PARIS — The choice of Christian Carion’s World War I-set “Joyeux Noel” (Merry Christmas) to rep France in Oscar’s foreign-language race has sparked a local spat.

Producers of shortlisted pics “Live and Become” and “March of the Penguins” claim that “Merry Christmas” is ineligible because it won’t have had a normal release before the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ cutoff date, and it hasn’t tallied 200,000 admissions in France, a Gallic requirement.

“We aren’t trying to be spoilsports, but the selection of ‘Merry Christmas’ is astounding,” said Marie Masmonteil, producer of “Live and Become.” “It’s as if the regulations are there to be broken.”

The Centre National de la Cinematographie said the 200,000-admissions rule isn’t binding. But French producers wishing to submit a film are told by CNC that it is one of the selection conditions.

More important, the Societe des Producteurs Independents (SPI) claims Carion’s $22 million drama, which Sony Pictures Classics will release Stateside in March, breaks an Acad rule.

Pic, based on the true story of a frontline truce between soldiers on Christmas Eve 1914, bowed Sept. 21 at a small arthouse theater in St. Pol-sur-Ternoise, near where it was shot. This fulfills the requirement that foreign-language Oscar candidates must have screened in their own country for at least seven consecutive days between Oct. 1 and Sept. 30. It will go nationwide in November.

The SPI quotes from the Academy’s rulebook that eligible films must be “advertised and exploited in a manner considered normal and customary to the industry.” “This clearly isn’t a normal release by French standards,” Masmonteil said.

In St. Pol on Thursday with Carion to promote “Merry Christmas,” producer Christophe Rossignon dismissed the rumpus.

“I’m confident we are not in breach of the regulations,” he said.

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