'French Oscar' nominations showcase diversity as Academy Awards face charges of racism

Agence France-Presse
Director Abderrahmane Sissako (2ndR) poses with Tunisian cinematographer Sofian El Fani (L) and Tunisian composer Amine Bouhafa (R) awarded for the film "Timbuktu" at the end of the 40th Cesar Awards ceremony in Paris on February 20, 2015. The film "Timbuktu" won the Best Film Award.
Philippe Wojazer

Nominations for the Cesars, France's version of the Oscars, were announced on Wednesday, honoring a diversity of talent and themes at a time when the Academy Awards are being accused of ignoring minorities.

Screen legends such as Gerard Depardieu, Catherine Deneuve and Isabelle Huppert got nods, and Hollywood star Michael Douglas will be given a lifetime achievement award.

But the top choices have placed the spotlight on films with very diverse actors, directors and storylines — a contrast to the storm that has enveloped nominations to this year's Academy Awards.

"My Golden Days" ("Trois souvenirs de ma jeunesse"), the story of an anthropologist in Tajikistan, scooped the highest number of nominations with 11, including best film and director.

It is up against "Dheepan", the story of Sri Lankan refugees in France that won the top Palme d'Or prize at the Cannes Film Festival last year.

"Mustang", which picked up nine nominations, tells the story of five Turkish sisters forced into arranged marriages.

"The selection is very rich, very diverse and very varied," said Alain Terzain, president of the Cesar Academy, which presents its awards on February 26, two days before the Oscars.

Women filmmakers were also strongly represented, taking three of the seven nods for best director, while women are absent in this category in the Oscars.

"I feel pretty proud to be French. We do pretty well here. The selection covers a good cross-section of today's France," said Cesar presenter Florence Foresti.

The Cesars still found room for the traditional French film elite.

Depardieu and Huppert have both been nominated for their roles as a grief-stricken couple reuniting for a trip through California's Death Valley in "Valley of Love".

They are the most nominated actors in the history of the Cesars, with 32 nods between them. Depardieu has won twice and Huppert once.

Deneuve, 72, one of the longest-reigning queens of French cinema, picked up her 14th nomination for her supporting role as a judge trying to help a delinquent teen in gritty urban drama "Standing Tall" ("La tete haute").

The other big hopeful this year is opera singer biopic "Marguerite", joint top with 11 nominations.

Also nominated for best film, the top award at the Cesars, are "Fatima", "Mustang", "The Measure of a Man" and "Mon Roi".

Michael Douglas will pick up a lifetime achievement prize.

'Shame on us'

This year's Oscars have been rocked by controversy after no minority actors were nominated for a second year running.

Industry bible Variety magazine ran a front cover on Tuesday entitled "Shame on us," while director Spike Lee and megastar Will Smith have both vowed to boycott the "lily white" awards.

Other critics have said they are shocked that "Carol," a lesbian love affair in 1950s New York, was snubbed, along with its gay director, Todd Haynes.

Spurred to act by the uproar, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which awards the Oscars, on Friday promised "historic action" to redress the balance and double its female and minority members by 2020.

But Variety said the problem had roots far deeper than the 89-year-old academy itself.

"The Hollywood studio hierarchy remains an exclusive club chaired by white men and one white woman. The big talent agencies have almost no minority partners. And the media that cover it all — Variety included — employ only a few people of colour," it said.