France chooses B.O. hit for Academy contest

PARIS — French B.O. phenom “The Intouchables” has been selected to rep Gaul in the foreign-language race at the Academy Awards.

The Euros9.5 million ($12.4 million) buddy comedy, which was helmed by Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache, has grossed $364.5 million worldwide. Pic is France’s third biggest B.O. hit.

It took $8.9 million Stateside, where it was released by The Weinstein Company. TWC is developing a U.S. remake with scribe/helmer Paul Feig and thesp Colin Firth reportedly on board.

The choice of “The Intouchables” marks a shift. Although France is a prolific producer of laffers, “The Intouchables” is the first comedy blockbuster to represent France in the Oscar foreign-language race.

Based on a true story, the dramedy turns on the friendship between a wealthy aristocrat (Francois Cluzet), who became a quadriplegic after a tragic accident, and his young, troubled caregiver (Omar Sy). Sy earned a Cesar nod (France’s top award) for his perf in “The Intouchables,” beating “The Artist” thesp Jean Dujardin.

“We’re proud that ‘The Intouchables’ is representing France because this film is a wonderful embodiment of our Republican motto, ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity,’” CNC prexy Eric Garandeau told Variety.

“The Intouchables” was chosen by a commission comprising seven members, including Cannes fest topper Thierry Fremaux and Paul Otchakovsky-Laurens, prexy of the CNC’s funding body Advance on Receipts. As in previous years, the five other members were chosen by the culture minister, a position now occupied by Aurelie Filippetti. Unlike her predecessor, Frederic Mitterrand — who often selected the same vet thesps, such as Jeanne Moreau and pure-play helmers like Costa-Gavras — Filippetti picked an eclectic and young mix of people with different backgrounds and tastes ranging from auteur to the more mainstream. They were “A Prophet” screenwriter Abdel Raouf Dafri, “The Artist” star Berenice Bejo, “The Illusionist” helmer Sylvain Chomet, Haut et Court producer Carole Scotta (“The Class”) and makeup artist Didier Lavergne (“The Ghost Writer”).

Industry insiders said the commission needed to be refreshed. France hasn’t had a film nominated for a foreign-language Oscar nod since 2009, when Jacques Audiard’s “A Prophet” lost to Yojiro Takita’s drama “Departures.” The last foreign-language kudo nabbed by a French pic goes back 20 years to Regis Wargnier’s “Indochine.”

“The Intouchables” is produced by Nicolas Duval-Adassovsky, Laurent Zeitoun and Yann Zenou at Quad Films, and co-produced by Gaumont, which released the film in France and reps it in international markets.

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