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'The Artist' Wins 6 Cesar Awards, Including Best French Film of the Year

Michel Hazanavicius and Berenice Bejo also claim trophies, but Jean Dujardin loses to "Untouchable's" Omar Sy.

"The Artist"
The Weinstein Co./UPI/Newscom

PARIS -- In what could be a foreshadowing of Oscar night, France’s Academy of Technical Arts and Sciences lavished six awards including French film of the year on The Artist at the 37th annual Cesar Awards on Friday night in Paris. 

Artist helmer Michel Hazanavicius was named best director in his home country, and he thanked his real-life leading lady Berenice Bejo, who later took the stage to accept her award for best actress for her breakout role in the movie.

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The couple now heads to Los Angeles, where Artist will vie for 10 Academy Awards, including best picture and director, at Sunday’s Oscars ceremony.

Following the film’s success during Hollywood’s awards season, Warner Bros. rereleased Artist in 300 French theaters this year. Buzz from the Golden Globes through the BAFTAs proved positive for the little French film that has sold more than 2.1 million tickets in France and won more than 70 prizes across the globe since it premiered at the Festival de Cannes in May, making it the most awarded French film in history.

Ludovic Bource took the Cesar for best musical score for Artist. Bource recently won the BAFTA Award and the Golden Globe for his score and will compete in the category at the Oscars.

Jean Dujardin, however, did not win for his starring role in Artist as silent star George Valentin. Instead, Omar Sy was named best actor for his role in Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache’s Untouchable. The 34-year old actor, known for his comedic performances on TV and in film, was this year’s breakout star in France, earning rave reviews across the board from critics and charming international audiences.

After thanking his wife, children and agent, Sy took center stage to perform a little dance to rouse the crowd.

Untouchable was the No. 1 film at the Gallic box office in 2011 and is the third-most-popular film in French history since 1945, following only Titanic and Welcome to the Sticks. Released by Gaumont in France, Untouchable stars Francois Cluzet as a quadriplegic man whose life changes when a young man from the suburbs, played by Sy, comes to take care of him. The Weinstein Co., already busy handling Artist's U.S. release and Oscar campaign, will release Untouchable stateside and has bought an option for the remake rights for the film.

After a retrospective of Kate Winslet’s career, filmmaker Michel Gondry awarded the British actress an Honorary Cesar award. Gondry stepped in for  Roman Polanski, who directed Winslet in this year's Carnage and was to have presented the prize. Gondry wrote Winslet a poem in English and translated it to French. The actress received a standing ovation from the crowd before accepting her award despite, as she described it, her “absolutely dreadful” French.

“We are all blessed to be a part of an international film community,” she said. “You could have given it to somebody else, but you gave it to me, so thank you. I know how lucky I am not only to be here this evening but to really love my job.”

Winslet returned to accept the award for Polanski when he won, along with Yasmina Reza, for best adapted screenplay  for Carnage.

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Master of ceremonies Antoine de Caunes kept the crowd engaged, following last year’s legendary skit featuring Quentin Tarantino and a live seal, by offering up a Billy Crystal-style review of this year’s best film of the year nominees.

Poliss star Nadira Ayadi and Alix Delaporte’s Angele and Tony starlette Clotilde Hesme shared the prize for most promising actress. Angele and Tony’s leading man Gregory Gadebois was named most promising actor.

The best documentary trophy went to Christian Rouaud’s Tous au Larzac, produced by Elzevir Films.

After publicly criticizing the French film industry and France’s Academy in the weeks leading to the ceremony after his film Rebellion failed to earn any noms in the major categories, France’s “enfant terrible” Mathieu Kassovitz made a surprise appearance to present the prize for best cinematography to Guillaume Schiffman for Artist.

Voters came together to award Asghar Farhadi’s Iranian film A Separation the Cesar for best foreign film. It is nominated for best foreign-language film and original screenplay Academy Awards.

Michel Blanc was named best supporting actor for his role in Pierre Schoeller’s The Minister, beating all three actors from Poliss nominated in the same category.

Schoeller won the prize for best original screenplay for the political drama about a French transport minister that premiered at Cannes.

France’s Academy boasts 4,199 members, of which 3,880 selected the nominees from a pool of 555 films and 3,309 talents.

It also paid homage to late actress Annie Girardot.

The 37th annual Cesar Awards ceremony were held at the Chatelet Theater, hosted by de Caunes for the eighth time. French actor-director Guillaume Canet presided over the ceremony that was broadcast live and unencrypted on pay TV network Canal Plus.

After the ceremony, the winners, nominees and the industry’s top execs gathered for a celebratory dinner at famed Parisian restaurant Fouquet’s on the Champs Elysées followed by a night of dancing at l’Arc courtesy of queen of Parisian nightlife Albane Cleret.