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‘Of Gods and Men’ tops Cesar Awards

French Acad honors Xavier Beauvois pic; Polanski wins director prize

Xavier Beauvois’ “Of Gods and Men” and Roman Polanski’s “The Ghost Writer” won top kudos Friday night at Gaul’s 36th Cesar Awards ceremony, which boasted Jodie Foster as honorary president.

Meanwhile, David Fincher’s “Social Network” took the foreign-lingo prize.

A tale of Christian monks who were killed by Algerian fundamentalists amid post-colonial strife, “Of Gods and Men” snatched up film and supporting actor for Michael Lonsdale while Polanski’s thriller “The Ghost Writer” nabbed director and adapted screenplay (shared with co-scribe Robert Harris).

“This film carries a message of wisdom (…) equality, freedom and fraternity,” said Beauvois in his acceptance speech. “French cinema is like France: It is rich and diverse; and with the presidential campaign starting soon, I don’t want people to start slurring against French Muslims. I want us to be united; it’s the film’s ultimate lesson” added Beauvois, referring to racist comments made by a prominent TV journalist and Gaul’s home secretary.

“Of Gods and Men,” produced by Why Not Films (“A Prophet”), bowed at Cannes where it won the Grand Jury Prize. While it failed to make it into the foreign-language Oscar longlist, pic has been a critical and commercial success in Gaul, grossing $24.7 million at the B.O.

Sony Pictures Classics released “Of Gods and Men” in the U.S. on Feb. 25.

Although some critics may not consider “The Ghost Writer” as one of Polanski’s finest films, pic has been on a winning spree across Europe, nabbing best director and screenplay at the Lumiere awards, (Gaul’s equivalent to the Golden Globes), and taking six kudos, including picture, helmer and screenplay, at the European Film Awards. The Pierce Brosnan-starrer is one of the rare English-language films eligible for the Cesar’s picture nod as it is a French-majority co-production.

“I finished this film while in jail so I would like to thank all the people who helped me and supported me until the very end,” said the Polish-born French helmer who previously won the Cesar’s film and director awards twice, in 1980 for “Tess” and in 2002 for “The Pianist.”

While the awards’ previous edition was heavily dominated by “A Prophet,” which swept nine nods out of 13 nominations, this year’s honors were widely spread.

Political satire “The Names of Love” was the evening’s surprise winner, taking original screenplay for Baya Kasmi and Michel Leclerc, and thesp for 24-year-old thesp Sara Forestier. Forestier plays a politician sleeping her way up the ladder until she meets her match. She previously won the Cesar newcomer for Abdellatif Kechiche’s “Games of Love and Chance” in 2005.

French journalists and critics had predicted the actress nod would go to either British thesp Kristin Scott Thomas for her role as an American journo investigating the 1942 roundup and internment of Parisian Jews in “Sarah’s Key’s,” or to Catherine Deneuve’s perf as an upper class housewife-turned-factory boss in Francois Ozon’s “Potiche,” a part which many critics hailed as her best work in decades.

“I didn’t prepare anything, I just wore my lucky charm underwear,” joked Forestier, adding she was a virgin and didn’t know anything about politics when she took the part.

With laffers like Francois Ozon’s “Potiche,” social satire “The Names of Love,” Pascal Chaumeil’s “Heartbreaker” and Bertrand Blier’s “The Clink of Ice” nommed for multiple kudos, this year’s Cesar appeared to celebrate audience-friendly pics and comedies, a genre that has often been overlooked by France’s Academy of Films, Arts and Sciences.

Nominated for eight Cesars, “Gainsbourg” took three nods, including actor for Eric Elmosnino and first film for comicbook artist-turned-helmer Joann Sfar.” Pic was Universal Pictures Intl.’s first co-prod with Gaul. “Gainsbourg” also marked animation vet producer Marc du Pontavice’s first feature film. The fantasy-filled biopic was just nabbed by Music Box Films for U.S. distribution. Sfar is now working on “The Rabbi’s Cat” a 3D-animated feature based on his popular comicbook series, which will bow in France on June 1.

Sfar faced strong competitors in the first film category, including Pascal Chaumeil’s romcom “Heartbreaker,” and Geraldine Nakache and Herve Mimran’s “All That Glitters,” both of which were commercial successes, grossing $31 million and $14.25 million respectively.

Social dramedy “All That Glitters” snatched up newcomer prize for Leila Bekhti, who played a twentysomething with big dreams. Bekhti will next appear in Radu Mihaileanu’s “The Source,” his follow up to “The Concert.”

“The Clink of Ice” took supporting thesp for Anne Alvaro, who had won a Cesar in 2001 for her part in Agnes Jaoui’s “The Taste of Others.”

Venezuelan thesp Edgar Ramirez took the newcomer nod for his perf in Olivier Assayas’ Golden Globe-winning program “Carlos.”

Produced by Daniel Leconte’s Film en Stock and Canal Plus, “Carlos,” a hybrid TV series-film, made it into Cannes’ Official Selection.

Meanwhile, other strong contenders including Mathieu Amalric’s “On Tour,” a road movie following an American Burlesque troupe, and “Heartbreaker” went home empty-handed. Bertrand Tavernier’s “The Princess of Montpensier” only took costume design out of eight noms.

Dressed in a sparkling pearl-colored dress, Foster opened the ceremony paying homage to Gallic masters in perfect French.

“It’s a big deal for a California girl like me to serve as the Cesar’s honorary president,” said Foster, who’s currently shooting Polanski’s”God Of Carnage” in Paris.”It’s as if I had been adopted by the family of French cinema, Claude Chabrol, Jean Renoir, Louis Malle, Philippe de Broca, and many others.”

Sylvain Chomet’s “The Illusionnist” took the animation nod, inaugurating the Cesar’s newly created toon category. Based on Jacques Tati’s unfinished screenplay, “The Illusionist” will compete for an Oscar on Sunday.

“The Social Network” beat other Hollywood heavyweights, including Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” and Clint Eastwood’s “Invictus” in the foreign film category.

Following Harrison Ford and Dustin Hoffman, Quentin Tarantino was feted by the French Academy of Arts and Sciences with a honorary Cesar. Presented by Diane Kruger and Christopher Waltz, two stars from Tarantino’s latest hit, “Inglourious Basterds,” the homage featured clips from his cult pics, notably “Kill Bill” “Reservoir Dogs,” “Jackie Brown” and “Pulp Fiction.”

“For the big Francophile that I am, this awards means a great deal. France is a country which respects cinema more than any other country,” said the 47-year-old director, who shot scenes of “Inglourious Basterds” in Paris. “I promise you I won’t let this award get to my head,” added the helmer, who ended his short speech with his famous “Vive le Cinema.”

Complete list of winners:

FILM

“Of Gods and Men,” Xavier Beauvois

DIRECTOR

Roman Polanski, “The Ghost Writer”

ACTOR

Eric Elmosnino, “Gainsbourg”

ACTRESS

Sara Forestier, “The Names of Love”

SUPPORTING ACTOR

Michael Lonsdale, “Of Gods and Men”

SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Anne Alvaro, “The Clink of Ice”

NEWCOMER, ACTOR

Edgar Ramirez, “Carlos”

NEWCOMER, ACTRESS

Leila Bekhti, “All That Glitters”

EDITING

Herve de Luze, “Ghost Writer”

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Caroline charpentier “Of Gods and Men”

FIRST FILM

Joann Sfar, “Gainsbourg”

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Baya Kasmi, Michel Leclerc, “The Names of Love”

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Robert Harris, Roman Polanski, “The Ghost Writer”

COSTUME DESIGN

Caroline de Vivaise, “The Princess of Montpensier

SHORT FILM

“Logorama,” François Alaux, Hervé de Crecy, Ludovic Houplain

MUSIC

Alexandre Desplat, “The Ghost Writer”

SET DESIGN

Hugues Tissandier, “Les Aventures extraordinaires d’Adèle Blanc-Sec”

SOUND

Daniel Sobrino, Jean Goudier, Jean-Baptiste Brunhes, “Gainsbourg”

FOREIGN FILM

“The Social Network,” David Fincher

ANIMATED FILM

“The Illusionist,” Sylvain Chomet

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

“Oceans,” Jacques Perrin, Jacques Cluzaud

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