Not lost in the translation: remaking French fare

PLAY IT AGAIN, JACQUES: American-French producer Frederic Golchan has made a mini-career of taking Gallic pix and giving them a U.S. setting. He did that with “Quick Change” (based on “Hold Up” with Jean-Paul Belmondo) and now has “Intersection” in theaters.

“There’s a lot more involved than just buying rights,” he said of the remake process. “Obviously, the material has to translate to an American setting. Also, I don’t see much point in taking a film that’s well-known in the states because it winds up being scrutinized and compared.”

He finds it amusing that “Intersection” reviews are invoking the 24-year-old “Les Choses de la vie” with Yves Montand. That film had a brief U.S. release and is almost never revived. Nonetheless, based on criticism, he observed one would think it had been a major box office success domestically. Some have objected to the translation, but the original’s writer-director, Claude Sautet, read the script and was delighted with the new incarnation.

The project first landed at Paramount in 1988 with Lansing/Jaffe. David Rayfiel wrote the first script, and when director Mark Rydell signed on in 1992, he brought in Marshall Brickman. Sharon Stone was originally approached to play “the other woman” but, having played that role before, opted to play Richard Gere’s wife.

“I learned something very valuable from this experience,” said Golchan. “The film is character-, not plot-driven and, as a result, has no structure that’s definitive. Every scene impacts on how things go emotionally. There were a lot of possibilities and shadings to balance.”

So several test screenings ensued and getting the right tone meant pushing back a planned holiday release. “It was like putting up the red flag,” he noted. “There was immediate speculation that we had a problem picture. In a way we did, but the process of testing was meant to tell us how and what audiences would react to. The dilemma was that we made the mistake of doing tests in L.A. I will never, never do that again. They are too close to the industry and word leaks out about the screenings which is misinterpreted and hurtful.”

HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF! Golchan’s comments must sound familiar to James L. Brooks, who went through a similar process on his forthcoming “I’ll Do Anything.” That’s the musical/drama/comedy that was de-songed in the testing process.

Brooks has been scratching his head trying to come up with another example of a film conceived and shot as a musical but edited more conventionally. About 20 years ago this scribe was talking with Nicholas Ray about one of his lesser efforts, “Hot Blood” (coincidentally a Columbia production) with Cornel Wilde and Jane Russell. The observation made was that the film came alive when Wilde went into a spontaneous dance number.

“Well, it was supposed to be a musical,” said Ray. “We had a lot of music and dance sequences, and when it was previewed, audiences reacted very badly. The studio said cut ’em out and we wound up with a not very good picture.”

NOT ALL BLACK & WHITE: A recent column on the logistics of striking black-and-white prints for “Schindler’s List” had unprecedented response. Filmmakers phoned, wrote and rallied for pet labs. Robert Brinkman, who shot the monochrome stuff in “U2: Rattle & Hum,” said unquestionably that Deluxe (where “Schindler” was processed) has one of the best labs. However, his experience was that Technicolor was even better.

Myron Meisel, who put together “It’s All True” with Bill Krohn, put in his vote for Foto Kem. “A great black-and-white lab is one that will take the special care you need. I’m heartened that there’s more attention being given it. But the economics are rough. I ran into Spielberg last week and he told me that the success of his film means that in order to get it out to the widest number of theaters, he’s conceded to have subsequent black-and-white prints made on color stock.”

FOREIGN EXPOSURES: “I want to make my next film in America,” said Franci Slak. “Yes, it would be nice some day to work in the U.S.,” admitted Francesca Archibugi. “I’m sure there will be some film I will make here,” observed Hans Geissendorfer.

In recent weeks, there’s been a steady flow of international directors in town with Oscar submissions. Slak reps Slovenia with “When I Close My Eyes,” Archibugi helmed the Italian “Great Pumpkin” and Geissendorfer — previously nominated for “The Glass Cell” and a Golden Globe nominee — was present with Germany’s “Justiz.”

Hollywood remains a dream and a hope. Geissendorfer, who lives in London and has made English-language features, has had nibbles. Archibugi said she simply doesn’t have the language skills to consider an offer.

What the trio share is a love and admiration for American films. “But it can be a trap,” Archibugi noted. “When you don’t have ideas, you go for trends. I saw this in school and it worried me that I could fall into this hole. While I do not always know if my ideas work, I know they are mine.”

She said her proof comes only when an audience sees the picture.

“It’s great to have a success at home but something special when people from other cultures embrace your work,” Slak observed. “I had that experience when my new film was screened in Chicago.”

Geissendorfer remains perplexed by the current posturing over the world trade agreement. “Those who understand the economic realities know that most national cinemas can only exist with government aid. Those who understand culture know the health of all art and its free exchange is the only possible solution to the present situation.”

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