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Barbarian Invasions, Mystic Rivertake top French film awards

PARIS, Feb 22 (AFP) – Canada’s “The Barbarian Invasions” and Clint Eastwood’s “Mystic River” won the two top awards at France’s pre-eminent film awards – boosting their international kudos just before the Oscar ceremony next Sunday.

Denys Arcand, the Quebec-born director of “The Barbarian Invasions”, a French-language movie co-produced by Canada and France, easily swept the Cesars awards ceremony held in Paris Saturday, walking away with the best picture, best director and best original screenplay prizes.

“Mystic River”, a powerful story of violence and vengeance directed by Clint Eastwood, was given the prize for best foreign film, beating out US productions “Elephant”, “Gangs of New York” and “The Hours” and the Russian movie “The Return”.

The honours came one week before the US Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles on February 29, in which Arcand’s movie is competing for Oscars for best foreign-language picture and best original screenplay. Eastwood’s film has six nominations – including one for best picture.

“This French award means a lot to me, coming as it does while the campaign for next week’s Oscars is in full swing,” Arcand said as he accepted his screenplay Cesar.

“I’m not the favourite (at the Oscars) because a lot of people don’t know me. But you have to go anyway, it’s not too bad,” he said.Eastwood was not at the ceremony to pick up his Cesar.

In the other categories, a German comedy, “Good Bye Lenin”, won the best EU picture award, Egyptian-born Omar Sharif won best actor, Sylvie Testud best actress, and the 30-year-old daughter of actor Gerard Depardieu, Julie, received honours as best supporting actress for “La Petite Lili” and best new talent.

The Paris ceremony, attended by France’s top entertainment figures, was paused part-way through to give an actress and director, Agnes Jaoui, time to publicly lash the government for recent cutbacks to the welfare regime used by show business workers.

“You’re in the process of wiping out the cultural exception” underpinning France’s prolific film, TV and theatre output, she told Culture Minister Jean-Jacques Aillagon, who sat uncomfortably through the long applause that followed.

Outside, around 100 stage workers and actors held a protest as the Cesars were about to start. They also called for more demonstrations next month.

Just before the ceremony, Aillagon handed Arcand a state medal making him a Commander of France’s Order of Arts and Letters and called the director “the perfect illustration of the special link between Quebec, Canada and France, which all hold the same conception of cultural diversity.”

By awarding the best picture prize to Arcand, the Cesars overlooked two quintessentially French films, “Pas Sur la Bouche” and “Bon Voyage”, which were loaded with a slew of nominations and considered front-runners despite their relatively disappointing business at the box office.

“The Barbarian Invasions”, on the other hand, has proved a crowd- and critic-pleaser around the world since its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival last year, where it won the best screenplay prize.

The movie tells the story of the family and friends of a dying man gathering at his bedside and reflecting with wit and pathos on mortality and the changes that have swept the Western world since the 1960s.

Despite its Cesar trifecta, however, its Oscar chances look mixed.Variety, the US movie trade magazine, gives the film good odds for best foreign language prize, saying the US academy’s voters “like Arcand’s work”.

But in the screenplay stakes, it’s up against tough competition in the form of “Lost in Translation”, “Finding Nemo”, and “In America”.

“Mystic River” may have an even tougher time in turning its award success in France – and elsewhere – into Oscar glory, at least in the best picture race, where the epics “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” and “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” are favoured.


                                                              Subject: France news