PARIS (Reuters) - Black-and-white silent movie "The Artist" scooped up six Cesar awards including best film and best actress on Friday in France's annual version of the Academy Awards, further raising French hopes it could do well at the Oscars this weekend.
A misty-eyed flashback to late 1920s Hollywood, the French-made film has proved an unexpected international success, bagging seven British BAFTA awards earlier this month, including best film, and a Golden Globe before that.
It won best director for Michel Hazanavicius at the 37th Cesar ceremony and best actress for Berenice Bejo, who utters no words out loud as she plays a young actress starting out as silent cinema falls out of fashion and is replaced by "talkies."
"This is a film that started out at the very bottom, it's a film nobody wanted to make, and now we are right at the top. It's a beautiful story," Hazanavicius said, receiving his prize.
Argentine-born Bejo, who plays the beguiling Peppy Miller, admitted tearfully that she had desperately wanting to win.
Co-star Jean Dujardin, whose debonair rendition of a silent movie icon has won him Best Actor at Cannes, a BAFTA, a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination, was passed over for the best actor Cesar, which went instead to Omar Sy in "Intouchables."
Sy plays a rough-spoken but loveable delinquent from the deprived Paris suburbs who by accident ends up as a live-in carer to a quadriplegic aristocrat in a touching comedy that has been a smash hit in France with some 19 million admissions.
Based on a true story sparked by a paragliding accident, it plays on deep-rooted racial and class barriers in France.
"This is a gigantic buzz. I feel like a crazy guy," Sy, one of France's most popular black actors and best known for his TV comedy roles, said, before dancing a flamboyant jig on stage.
Winners of Cesar awards receive Oscar-like trophies sculpted by Cesar Baldaccini, the artist they are named after.
Dujardin is seen as well-placed for the best actor Oscar on Sunday, with "The Artist," a critics' darling throughout this award season, nominated for 10 Academy Awards. He would be the first French-born actor to win the Oscar for a lead role.
Highly acclaimed Iranian family drama "A Separation" was awarded the Cesar for best foreign film.
Reporting By Catherine Bremer; Editing by Michael Roddy