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Euro critics dish on the best performances

Opinions focus on thesps in pix most will never see

Early actress Oscar buzz appears to be focused on women — and more specifically on non-U.S. actresses Helen Mirren, Kate Winslet and Penelope Cruz.

On the other side of the Pond, British and continental European critics, quizzed by Variety on their favorite perfs of this year from non-American talent, also focused on females, albeit a completely different set of actresses.

Klaus Eder, general secretary of the Munich-based Intl. Federation of Film Critics (Fipresci), singles out French actress Nathalie Baye for her role in Martial Fougeron’s debut feature “Mon fils a moi.”

The actress clinched a Golden Shell at San Sebastian last September. “She’s an excellent actress who manages to convincingly adapt to entirely different characters and to show, with every new role, new and surprising sides of her personality,” says Eder.

Peter Bradshaw of British daily the Guardian highlights Scottish actress Kate Dickie’s turn in Andrea Arnold’s “Red Road.” “Dickie gives a superb performance: tough, taut, angry and vulnerable,” Bradshaw says.

Cahiers du Cinema editor-in-chief Jean-Michel Frodon drew together a list of worthy 2006 perfs. It includes French actresses Marina Hands in Pascale Ferran’s “Lady Chatterley,” Isabelle Huppert in Claude Chabrol’s “The Comedy of Power,” Isild le Besco in Benoit Jacquot’s “The Untouchable” and German Sandra Huller in “Requiem.”

Latter has already won a slew of awards, including Berlin’s Silver Bear and best actress at the German Film Awards. She is also nominated for a European Film Award.

Frodon postscripts his list with “please, not Helen Mirren,” adding when challenged on his plea: “I do admire her work. … It’s just so obvious, so undaring.”

Some continental European critics were more in step with L.A.

Michael Althen of German national newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung chose Mirren, commenting, “She shows how much room there is between a public mask and a presumably cold heart for an actress to convey emotions.”

Nick James, editor of the British Film Institute’s monthly film mag Sight and Sound, also came out in favor of Mirren, saying her perf was “head and shoulders above everything else this year.”

Aside from Mirren, James also mentioned Martina Gedeck in German “The Lives of Others,” and Mirjana Karanovic in Bosnia’s “Grbavica.”

“She has a kind of instantly compelling aura. She pulls you into the middle of the film,” James says of Karanovic, who is nominated for a European Film Award.

Lars-Olav Beier of German weekly Der Spiegel came up with the most original suggestion: the whole cast of Aboriginal actors in Rolf de Heers’ “Ten Canoes,” “for their humor, their warmth and their willingness to share their wonderful culture with me (and the rest of the world).”