Huppert's 'Elle' tops 'French Oscars' list after Polanski row

2 min

Paris (AFP)

Subversive rape thriller "Elle" starring Isabelle Huppert topped the nominations list Wednesday for the "French Oscars" -- the Cesars -- hit by controversy 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 Tuesday after pressure from women's groups and parts of the French government over a child rape case that has haunted him for four decades.

"Elle", the story of a woman who turns the tables on her rapist so she can draw her own pleasure from him, won the Golden Globe for best foreign film earlier this month.

It has helped revive the career of veteran Dutch director Paul Verhoeven and earned Huppert an Oscars nod for best actress Tuesday.

With 11 nominations, the film shares pole position at the Cesars with Francois Ozon's romantic drama "Frantz", set just after World War I when a young German women meets a mysterious Frenchman while visiting her fiance's grave.

- French 'Erin Brockovich' -

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".

The film, which has been compared to "Erin Brockovich", tells the real-life story of a whistleblower who uncovered a French medical scandal in which hundreds of people died after being given a highly controversial medicine.

However, the awards, the biggest event in the French cinematic calendar after the Cannes film festival, have already been overshadowed by the furore over Polanski.

Despite the row, the head of the French Academy of Cinema Arts and Techniques on Wednesday defended the decision to ask Polanski to preside at the ceremony.

Alain Terzian said Polanski was "one of the great figures of world cinema" and that the academy was "only interested in artists' work".

Last month, Polanski won his legal fight to end efforts by the United States to extradite him from his native Poland for unlawful sex with a minor.

Polanski had admitted the charge in 1977 as part of a plea bargain, but fled to France a year later convinced a judge was going to scrap the deal.

The other leading Cesars contenders include Bruno Dumont's surreal historical tragi-comedy "Slack Bay" (Ma Loute) starring Juliette Binoche, and "Divines", a gritty girl's buddy movie set in the Paris suburbs which won its maker Houda Benyamina a Golden Globe nomination and the Camera d'Or at Cannes.

It is hot favourite to take the best first film prize at the awards on February 24.