Seven Gallic pics to compete for top award

The competition just got fiercer at this year’s Cesar Awards.

For the first time in its history, Gaul’s Academie des Arts et Techniques du Cinema has nominated seven pics, as opposed to five, to fight it out for the honor of best French film. The foreign-film category was also bumped up to seven slots.

The big winner across the board was the two-part gangster epic “L’Instinct de mort” (Public Enemy Number One), with 10 noms, reflecting the growing French trend for contemporary biopics.

The diptych about notorious criminal Jacques Mesrine was produced by Thomas Langmann, whose father, legendary multihyphenate Claude Berri, died at 74 on Jan. 12, just three days after the death of Cesars founder Georges Cravenne (see story at right).

“Public Enemy” received a best picture nomination and nods for Vincent Cassel (actor), Jean-Francois Richet (director) and adapted screenplay (Abdel Raouf Dafri and Richet).

The biopic bandwagon, sparked by the Marion Cotillard starrer “La Vie en rose” in 2007, was also reflected in nine noms for “Seraphine,” including a nod for actress Yolande Moreau. Other recognized biopics include “Sagan” (noms for actress Sylvie Testud and supporting actress Jeanne Balibar) and “Coluche” (actor nom for Francois-Xavier Demaison).

The biggest loser: “Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis” (Welcome to the Sticks), co-produced by Berri, with only one nom — for best original screenplay.

“It seems to me that the members of the academy want to spotlight films that don’t always find an audience the first time around,” says acad prexy Alain Terzian, in words reminiscent of recent pronouncements in Hollywood. “That’s the only reason I can think of for the lack of recognition for ‘Les Ch’tis.’ Each film should be watched on its merits and not for whether it did well or badly at the box office.”

The lack of love for “Les Ch’tis” was offset by a posthumous actor nom for Guillaume Depardieu for his role as a vagrant in “Versailles.” Tilda Swinton got an actress nod in an English-language role as an alcoholic in the French-produced “Julia.”

Terzian describes 2008 as the most successful for French cinema in 25 years, and at the same time one of the saddest, due to the recent passing of three pillars of French cinema: Cravenne, Berri and producer Christian Fechner.

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