`Ridicule' wins France's top film award

Paris (AP) - Ridicule, an 18th-century costume drama set in Versailles in the corrupt court of King Louis XVI, was named best French film at the 22nd annual Cesar awards on Saturday night.

The film, acclaimed by both the public and critics alike, is France's Academy Award contender for best foreign film. It had been nominated for 12 awards, and won four of them. Its director, Patrice Leconte, won for best director but had to share it with Bertrand Tavernier for Capitaine Conan.

The veteran filmmaker Tavernier used the occasion to deliver a stinging diatribe against Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front.

Denmark's Breaking the Waves, directed by Lars von Trier, won best foreign film. The film recently won best picture awards from the National Society of Film Critics in the United States and from the European Film Academy, and von Trier won a New York Film Critics Circle award.

An honorary Cesar was given to Andie MacDowell. The American actress was a last-minute replacement for Sharon Stone, who cancelled her trip to France, citing rigorous training she is undergoing for a new film, Sphere. MacDowell accepted the award in proper - if accented - French.

The Cesars, the French equi-valent of the US Academy Awards, are the nation's most prestigious film honours. They were presented in Paris at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees. The award for best actress went to Fanny Ardant for Pedale Douce, and Philippe Torreton won the best actor award for Capitaine Conan. Pedale Douce, a film about gay nightclub life in Paris, drew the most viewers of any film in France this year, about four million.

Microcosmos, an up-close-and-personal look at the world of insects with no dialogue and exquisite camera work, won four awards: sound, cinemato- graphy, editing and music.

Ridicule, one of France's most popular films of 1996, is the tale of Gregoire Ponceludon de Malavoy, a provincial count determined to dry out the mosquito-infested swamplands kil- ling off the peasants in his native Dombes. Ponceludon, play-ed by Charles Berling, knows success depends on getting royal support. For that, he must play the power game at Versailles.

In addition to best picture and best director, the film won awards for best costume and best art direction.