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France's César film awards set for Friday night

A César Award trophy
A César Award trophy © Klaudia Kaczmarczyk / ENS Louis Lumière

The Césars, France's version of the Academy Awards, will take place this Friday night during a live broadcast from Paris' Théâtre du Châtelet amid international attention and some controversy. 

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French actor Jérôme Commandeur, host of Friday night's 42nd annual Césars, told the French newspaper Le Figaro that comparing the ceremony to the Oscars is false and misguided, given the wide gap of resources and culture between the two.

Commandeur said he hopes the French ceremony will introduce audiences to French films that have thus far remained under the public radar but merit wider viewing.

Subversive rape thriller "Elle" starring Isabelle Huppert tops the nominations list. With 11 nominations, the film shares pole position at the Césars with Francois Ozon's romantic drama "Frantz", set just after the First World War, when a young German women meets a mysterious Frenchman while visiting her fiance's grave.

"Elle", the story of a woman who turns the tables on her rapist so she can draw her own pleasure from him, won this year's Golden Globe for best foreign film and has helped revive the career of veteran Dutch director Paul Verhoeven.

Huppert -- who already holds the record for the most best actress nominations -- faces stiff competition from Danish actress Sidse Babett Knudsen, star of the TV series "Borgen" for her role in "La Fille de Brest".

Should Huppert lose, she will have another chance to take home a statuette this weekend, at Sunday's Oscars ceremony in Hollywood, California. Her nomination there marks her first ever Acadmey Award nod.

Where celebrity meets politics, controversy

This year's Césars was hit by controversy early on over the decision to ask Roman Polanski to preside at the awards.

The director of "Chinatown" and "Rosemary's Baby" was forced to step down from the honorary role after pressure from women's groups and parts of the French government over a child rape case that has haunted him for four decades.

Hollywood actor George Clooney, who's receiving the ceremony's Honorary César Award, was seen arriving at Salle Pleyel on Friday.

France's Academy of Arts and Techniques of Cinema said: "The most charismatic actor of his generation, George Clooney embodies the Hollywood glamour that big cinema stars have. His charm, sense of humor, personality and engagement are at the heart of our perpetual and eternal admiration."

Earlier this week, in an interview with French magazine Paris Match, Clooney waded into the row over Polanski being forced to drop out of the Cesars, saying it was alarming that the controversial director was still being pursued over a 40-year-old statutory rape case.

He said it was also time for the 83-year-old director to "put an end" to the saga.

Earlier this month lawyers for Polanski, who fled the United States in 1978 after fearing that a judge was about to go back on a plea bargain deal that saw him serve 42 days in jail, began a legal bid for him to be allowed to return to the US.

His victim, who was 13 when the rape took place at the Hollywood home of actor Jack Nicholson, has previously appealed to US authorities for the case to be dropped saying she wanted to move on with her life.

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