PARIS - A lesbian love movie that dazzled Cannes leads the race ahead of the French Oscars on Friday, where Julie Gayet, the actress outed as the president's lover, is running for an award for a role as a vamp.
Quentin Tarantino and Scarlett Johansson will be attending the Cesars ceremony in Paris, held two days before the US Oscars, with the "Django Unchained" director set to hand Johansson an honorary award.
But both will be sharing the celebrity spotlight with 41-year-old Gayet, star of the soap opera that gripped France for weeks after President Francois Hollande was snapped arriving for trysts with her at a Paris address.
Leading the pack of Cesars nominations, the Palme d'Or winner "Blue is the Warmest Colour" is up for eight awards including Best Picture and Best Director for the French-Tunisian filmmaker Abdellatif Kechiche.
The highly-charged movie's sensational welcome last year was tarnished by a public row between the director and his young stars, Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux, notably over the filming of graphic sex scenes.
The controversy now simmered down, Seydoux is running for a Best Actress Cesar, while her co-star is nominated as Best Newcomer for the three-hour film about a blue-haired art student and her intense erotic relationship with a younger girl.
For Best Film, Kechiche is up against Roman Polanski's "Venus in Fur", an edgy drama adapted from the stage about sexual role-play, named in seven categories, and the graphic gay-themed thriller "Stranger by the Lake" by Alain Guiraudie with eight nominations.
Unusually for the French awards, weighty dramas may have to make room for an offbeat coming-out comedy, "Les Garcons et Guillaume, a table!" (Me, Myself and Mum) by Guillaume Galienne.
The cooky movie, adapted from Galienne's one-man show, took top awards at the Directors' Fortnight prize in Cannes and trumps the Cesars pack with 10 nominations overall.
- 'Mini-skirted adviser' -
The coincidence of Gayet's nomination at the Cesars has been the cause of much chortling on French social media.
She is nominated as supporting actress in a comedy about life at the French foreign ministry, Bertrand Tavernier's "Quai d'Orsay", set in the run-up to the Iraq war in 2002 and 2003.
In the film, Gayet plays the role of a mini-skirted adviser to the minister with a penchant for suspenders and no hesitation about using her seductive powers to get what she wants.
The fallout from Hollande's affair with Gayet prompted him to end his long-term relationship with Valerie Trierweiler, the country's de-facto first lady. It is not known whether he has continued his liason with Gayet, a character actress who has appeared in more than 70 films.
Gayet has kept a low profile since the affair went public and skipped the traditional dinner held the weekend before the Cesar awards, which are decided in a vote by some 4,000 French film professionals.
Johansson, who is engaged to a French journalist, will be recognised at the Cesars for a career in which she has already made 35 films.
However she could be in for a mixed reception in the French media after going on US television last month to declare that Parisians lived up to their rude stereotype.
She also created a stir internationally by ditching her role as ambassador for British charity Oxfam in favour of continuing with an Israeli company, SodaStream, which runs a factory on illegally occupied Palestinian territory.