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‘Timbuktu,’ ‘Sils Maria,’ ‘Saint Laurent’ Vie for French Cesar Glory

Deneuve, Cotillard, Binoche, Haenel compete for Best Actress, Kristen Stewart up for Supporting Actress

Timbuktu Cannes 2014

In one of the widest-open Cesar races in recent years, Abderrahmane Sissako’s Oscar-nominated “Timbuktu” will face off for best picture with Olivier Assayas’ “Sils Maria,” Bertrand Bonello’s “Saint Laurent” and talked-up newcomer Thomas Cailley’s “Love at First Fight” at France’s 2015 Cesar Awards.

“Timbuktu,” which world premiered at Cannes, earned eight Cesar nominations and will also compete foreign-language Oscar next month.

The Cesar race is dominated by “Saint Laurent” with 10 noms. Coming second is “Love at First Fight,” a performance-driven romantic comedy that proves to be yet another gem discovered by Directors’ Fortnight topper Edouard Waintrop (following last year’s “Me, Myself and Mom,” which ended up winning five Cesar kudos).

Also making the best picture cut, in a nomination line-up underscoring France’s wide production range: Robin Campillo’s “Eastern Boys,” French dramedy blockbuster “La Famille Belier,” helmed by Eric Lartigau, and Thomas Lilti’s admired medical drama “Hippocrates.”

Best actress features a multi-generation star smackdown, and one of the highpoints of the Cesar Awards, with Juliette Binoche nominated for “Sils Maria,” Marion Cotillard in the running for the Dardenne brothers “Two Days, One Night,” Catherine Deneuve up for “In the Courtyard,” and maybe a dark horse: Adele Haenel, one of the France’s fastest rising young stars, getting a nod for “Love at First Fight” which, partly thanks to her performance, swept Cannes Directors’ Fortnight last year.

In the best actor category, Gaspard Ulliel will compete against Comedie-Francaise trained Pierre Niney. Both thesps are nominated for their interpretations of the famed French designer in Bonello’s “Saint Laurent” and Jalil Lespert’s “Yves Saint Laurent,” respectively.

Lespert’s “Yves Saint Laurent” nabbed seven nominations, including one for Guillaume Gallienne’s perf as Pierre Bergé, the designer’s partner and collaborator.

Melanie Laurent’s sophomore outing “Respire” (“Breathe”), which played at this is Cannes’ Critics Week to warm reviews, earned its two leading actresses,  Lou De Laâge and Joséphine Japy, noms for best female newcomer.

Also vying for the newcomer award is Louane Emera, a former The Voice contestant whose acting debut in “La Famille Belier” has been widely applauded by French critics and audiences. Rounding up the rich female newcomer lineup: Karidja Touré in “Girlhood” and Ariane Labed in “Fidelio.”

Kristen Stewart scored a supporting actress nomination for “Sils Maria,” along with Izïa Higelin for “Samba,” Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache’s follow up to “Intouchables.”

Sean Penn receives the French Academy’s honorary Cesar. The 4oth Cesar Awards take place Feb. 20 at Paris’ Chatelet Theater.