The selection of the Foreign Language Oscar entry from France has been one of the more interesting to follow this year given all the controversy surrounding 2013’s ultimate decision. The committee that chooses the picture that will represent France has gone with Bertrand Bonello’s biopic Saint Laurent, which will premiere next week in the U.S. at the New York Film Festival.
Saint Laurent, which Sony Pictures Classics acquired ahead of its Cannes premiere in competition this year, stars Gaspard Ulliel as the fashion icon and Jérémie Renier as his lifelong partner Pierre Bergé. The film is set during the period 1965-1976 and EuropaCorp and Mandarin Cinema are producers. It is the second Saint Laurent biopic to hit screens this year after The Weinstein Co’s Yves Saint Laurent, which had Pierre Niney starring and Jalil Lespert directing. That one premiered in June in the U.S. and has made $20.3M worldwide.
Two other French films from 2013 had been possible Oscar entries. Cannes Palme d’Or winner Blue Is The Warmest Color caused a stir when its French release date made it ineligible for the Oscar race last year. And, Les Garçons Et Guillaume, A Table!, a modest commercial success, was also considered a favorite especially after winning a slew of César Awards, and given its November 2013 release.
Last year, distributor Wild Bunch refused to budge off of its October 9 release in France which put Blue Is The Warmest Color just on the other side of the eligibility cut-off. AMPAS’ Foreign Language rules stipulate that a film must be released domestically between October 1-September 30. At the time, Wild Bunch’s Vincent Maraval told me, “There was never any question for us to modify in any way our release strategy to legitimize the stupidity of the Oscar rules. Should we risk our strategy for France for a Foreign Language Film Oscar which doesn’t add anything to a Palme d’Or?”
In the end last year, it was still a Wild Bunch movie that repped France, and it was also one that had dipped below the radar given a similar lag between its French release and the Oscar choice. Gilles Bourdos’ Renoir had debuted in a Cannes sidebar in 2012 — it did not make the Oscar shortlist last year.
Les Garçons Et Guillaume also had a fair shot at being the chosen one this year. The debut feature of Guillaume Gallienne which is known as Me, Myself And Mum overseas was the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight winner in 2013 and went on to win five César Awards, France’s equivalent to the Oscar. Blue, conversely, walked away with only one trophy on César night. Guillaume did not release in France until November 2013, meaning it would have been eligible this year. (In a ‘what-a-small-world’ sort of coincidence, Gallienne co-starred in Lespert’s Yves Saint Laurent while Blue‘s Léa Seydoux plays the titular designer’s muse, Loulou de la Falaise, in Bonello’s Oscar entry.)
While the box office at home has been padded this year with French films – Qu’Est-Ce Qu’On A Fait Au Bon Dieu?!, Supercondriaque, and Lucy are the top three films of 2014 — France tends to rate the artistic over the commercial when selecting what to put forth to the Academy. Although in 2012, the selection committee advanced mega-hit The Intouchables which, to much consternation did not receive a nomination. There have been four nominees in the past decade with the last French movie to win a Foreign Language Oscar going all the way back to 1992’s Indochine. The last French film to win big at the Oscars was 2011’s The Artist which took Best Picture.