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PARIS (Reuters) - Oscar-nominated actress Marion Cotillard took France's top cinema award on Friday, winning a Cesar for her virtuoso portrayal of chanteuse Edith Piaf in "La Vie en Rose."
Mathieu Amalric claimed the best actor prize for his performance as a man crippled by a stroke and able to communicate only by blinking an eyelid in "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," whose director Julian Schnabel has also been nominated for an Oscar.
Cotillard, who had already won both a British BAFTA and a Golden Globe for the her role as Piaf, had been tipped to win France's answer to an Academy Award.
Her portrayal of Piaf has attracted rave reviews in her home country and abroad and she thanked director Olivier Dahan.
"You changed my life, you changed my life as an actress, you changed my life full stop," she said, fighting back tears.
Cotillard also thanked Piaf's friend Ginou Richer, to whom she became close while preparing for her role. "I love you Ginou, you opened up your life, you opened up 15 years of your life and friendship with Piaf and you really nourished me."
If she wins on Sunday, Cotillard would be the first French performer to receive a best actress Oscar since Simone Signoret in 1960, although several others, including Catherine Deneuve and Isabelle Adjani, have been nominated.
Amalric, receiving his second best actor Cesar, was in Panama shooting his part as the villain in the next James Bond film and he sent a message of thanks to be read out at the ceremony.
The Cesar for best director went to Abdellatif Kechiche, whose "La Graine et le Mulet" also took the best film award.
The story of an elderly shipyard worker who dreams of setting up a couscous restaurant, "La Graine et le Mulet" was the biggest success of the evening, winning four of the five categories in which it was nominated, including best young actress for its star Hafsia Herzi.
"Persepolis," nominated at the Academy Awards for best animation, won the best first film category for its director Marjane Satrapi, as well as best adapted screenplay.
Editing by Andrew Dobbie