Well, this isn’t exactly a vote of confidence in France’s submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Eyebrows were raised when Gilles Bourdos’ attractive but not notably acclaimed period biopic “Renoir” was selected to represent the country at the Academy Awards, and those same skeptics will feel vindicated by today’s shortlist for the most prestigious individual award in French cinema, the Louis Delluc Prize: eight films have been nominated, and “Renoir” is not among them.
Established in 1937, the Delluc is awarded to a single film every year, and boasts about the loftiest list of recipients you can imagine: Jean Cocteau, Robert Bresson, Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Agnes Varda and, as it happens, Jean Renoir himself. The Césars may be France’s answer to the Academy Awards, but the Delluc carries more weight.
Now, of course, the juries that select the Oscar submission and the Delluc nominees — both made up of leading critics and industry figures — are hardly the same. (This year’s Delluc jury includes Cannes president Gilles Jacob.) Still, the inconsistency makes for an amusingly mixed message: the film deemed most suitable for the Academy membership isn’t deemed one of the best films the country has to offer. (Hey, that’s the case more often than not.) Indeed, this the second straight year France’s Oscar hopeful hasn’t met the Delluc jury’s standards — though last year’s “The Intouchables” was, unlike “Renoir,” a plainly populist choice.
What films did make the cut, then? Naturally, Abdellatif Kechiche’s Palme d’Or winner “Blue is the Warmest Color” is seen as the frontrunner — though the Delluc voters have a habit of zigging where we expect them to zag. (Only last year, costume drama “Farewell My Queen” pulled an upset by defeating future Oscar winner “Amour.”) Kechiche has won this award before, for 2007’s “The Secret of the Grain”; only four directors, including Alain Resnais and Louis Malle, have won more than once.
One other former winner joins Kechiche on the nominee list, though it’d be an unwelcome surprise if Arnaud Desplechin (who took the prize for “Kings and Queen” in 2004) were to take the award for his dreary English-language effort “Jimmy P,” which was roundly panned in Cannes. While France’s Oscar submission didn’t make the grade, Iran’s did: Asghar Farhadi’s “The Past” is in the mix, and he’ll be looking to join Aki Kaurismaki and Andrzej Wajda on the short list of non-French Delluc winners.
If I were a betting man, however, I might take a punt on Bruno Dumont’s Juliette Binoche-starring “Camille Claudel 1915” — Dumont has never won before, and his excellent take on the artist biopic is the kind of austere, imposing auteur work the jurors tend to like. Or perhaps the year’s other sexually explicit Cannes hit about gay desire — Alain Guiraudie’s chilly thriller “Stranger by the Lake” — can surprise. We’ll find out on December 17.
The nominees are:
“Blue is the Warmest Color,” Abdellatif Kechiche
“Camille Claudel 1915,” Bruno Dumont
“Jimmy P.: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian,” Arnaud Desplechin
“9 Month Stretch,” Albert Dupontel
“One of a Kind,” François Dupeyron
“On My Way,” Emmanuelle Bercot
“The Past,” Asghar Farhadi
“Stranger by the Lake,” Alain Guiraudie