Can French convert awards to cash?

Pics seek box office bump from Oscars, Cesars

PARIS — France didn’t make the cut for a foreign-language film nomination at this year’s Oscars.

But the Academy made up for this oversight by handing out a generous 10 Oscar noms to an array of French-language pics.

“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” leads the pack with four nods, including director for Julian Schnabel, an American directing in French. Edith Piaf biopic “La Vie en rose” is a close second with three nods, for actress, constume design and makeup. The animated “Persepolis,” which missed the foreign-language category, is up for animated film. Two French contenders are competing in the animated short and live-action short categories.

France’s own Cesar kudos this year dovetail with the Academy’s choices. “La Vie en rose” is up for 11 statuettes, while “Diving Bell” and “Persepolis” each figure in a clutch of major categories.

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Claude Miller’s “Un Secret” and Abdel Kechiche’s “The Secret of the Grain” are the other two front-runners in the Gallic race, whose outcome will be known Feb. 22, two days before the Oscars.

But do the Oscar and Cesars really count in Gaul, and do they make a financial difference? That is largely a question of timing.

“La Vie en rose” was France’s second biggest movie at the box office last year, garnering 5.3 million in ticket sales, and so far the DVD has sold 750,000 copies.

Says Henri Ernst, marketing topper at distributor TFM: “The nominations come too late to make much of a commercial difference to us, although they may revive DVD sales. But they are marvelous nonetheless.

“The films that benefit the most are those that have recently come out or are in midcareer,” Ernst adds.

“The Secret of the Grain” falls into that category. Kechiche’s immigrant tale, which took home an armful of prizes from Venice and nabbed the Prix Louis Delluc for best French film of the year, has been building steadily since its release Dec. 12 and topped the 500,000 admissions mark by the middle of January.

But will the awards breathe new life into distrib Pathe’s “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” which only managed a disappointing 315,000 admissions in France despite its high-profile Cannes bow last year? And despite the fact that it’s an adaptation of a runaway French bestseller?

Perhaps. “Lady Chatterley,” virtually unseen before taking the Cesar for best film last year, went back on screens after its kudos victory and trebled ticket sales to reach a cume of 400,000 admissions.