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Oscar sings France’s praises

Foreign-lingo Miramax pic gets two noms

PARIS — French helmer Christophe Barratier toasted two Oscar nominations for “The Chorus” (Les Choristes) — foreign-language film and original song — with a glass of champagne Tuesday.

“Two years ago we were struggling to make a film that no one was interested in. I never imagined for an instant that we’d come this far. It’s the stuff of dreams,” Barratier said.

Several French film groups turned down the pic — Barratier’s helming debut — because they thought its tale of life in a post-war reform school was too old-fashioned.

Finally Pathe stepped forward to finance it. The $6 million pic, produced by indie filmmaker Jacques Perrin, Barratier’s uncle, went on to be France’s biggest box office hit in 2004, outperforming “Shrek 2” with a gross of $66 million. The pic’s original choral music by Bruno Coulais is France’s best-selling CD, with 1.5 million copies sold.

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“The Chorus” received eight nominations for the Cesars, France’s equivalent of the Academy Awards.

Barratier was unsure if it was logistically possible to attend both ceremonies, because the Cesars are handed out on the evening of Feb. 26.

“It is going to be a mad rush getting from Paris to Los Angeles in time for the Oscars,” he said.

On Tuesday Barratier allowed a camera crew to film him watching the Oscar noms at a reception hosted by Canal Plus and E Entertainment. He bowed his head, smiling with disbelief when “The Chorus” turned out to be among the nominees.

“It was like waiting for exam results,” he said afterward.

As for the pic’s chances of nabbing the foreign-language film statuette next month, he opined:

“Logically I think the (Alejandro) Amenabar (“The Sea Inside”) will probably win. It’s very powerful emotionally, ‘Les Choristes’ is a lighter film.”

Barratier expressed sorrow that his compatriot Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “A Very Long Engagement” was not among the major category nominees, although it did get noms for art direction and cinematography.

“I love the film, and I think it is really a shame that Jeunet wasn’t nominated,” he said.