Relations have been strained between fest, French film folk

PARIS –Ever since Marlene Dietrich the Germans have liked smoky chanteuses, boding well for the Gallic Edith Piaf biopic “La Vie en Rose” which opens the Berlin Film Festival February 8.

But will Edith Piaf’s passion-filled warbling reconcile those estranged continental lovers, the French film industry and the Berlinale?

Fest topper Dieter Kosslick must surely be hoping so.

For the past three years, relations have been strained between the festival and Gallic film folk, fuelled by the lack of prizes for Gallic fare, and, last year, their paltry presence in the main competition.

In 2004 four French auteurs — Patrice Leconte, Eric Rohmer, Cedric Kahn and Rachid Bouchareb — saw their pics passed over for kudos.

A year later Gallic industryites were sure they would bring some statuettes home with a lineup of four strong competition titles.

Jacques Audiard’s “The Beat that My Heart Skipped” — winner back home in France of eight Cesar awards had to settle in Berlin for a music prize.

To cap it all, last year Kosslick included only two French titles in competition, prompting outrage in Gallic film circles.

For the first year in ages, not a single French film, not even a minority co-production, won anything at all. The festival uncharacteristically heaped praise on several German films.

Ironically, Cannes is not particularly welcoming to Teuton fare, whereas the Berlinale has always been generous in alloting berths to French cinema.

This year Kosslick seems to be in conciliatory mode, with Andre Techine’s “Wtinesses” and Jacques Rivette’s “Don’t touch the Ax,” bumping competition numbers back up again. All that remains to be seen is whether Cotillard will lip-sync her way to best actress.

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