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TO DUB OR NOT TO DUB

Undeterred by reports that Miramax’s dubbed version of the 1993 Gallic smash “Les Visiteurs” has tested poorly Stateside and may never see the light of day, another French producer is planning to launch a dubbed assault on the U.S.

“Un Indien dans la Ville” is this year’s surprise comic hit in France. The tale of an Amazon Indian in Paris has reaped an astounding $45 million so far at the local box office. Star and co-producer Thierry Lhermitte arrived in Los Angeles last week to stitch together a group of scribes and actors to work on an American dub, and to talk with distribs who have expressed interest in releasing the film.

There is also much interest in the remake rights, notably from Disney’s Joe Roth. But Lhermitte and his partner Louis Becker are adamant that they won’t consider a remake before they’ve given U.S. auds the chance to see the dubbed original.

“I’d like to see the kind of release given for a small American film,” Lhermitte told Variety. “Open on a few screens and then go wider. We’d want a dubbed and subtitled version, and we think the dubbing should be complete within three months.”

The French producers are going to fund the dubbed version themselves. “We’ve made a lot of money on this film, we can afford to pay,” said Lhermitte.

“I would love the American people to understand one thing,” said Becker. “Our film is not a ‘French movie,’ it is an entertaining movie made by French people.”

The film has one deep-pocketed backer, leading French commercial TV web TF1, which put up just under half the budget, and is handling international sales. TF1 chief Patrick Le Lay is known to have ambitions to make his company a major player on the global film scene, and “Un Indien dans la Ville” represents TF1’s first real opportunity to make a big splash in the U.S.

Any remake deal – which could be tied to a distribution deal for the dubbed original – would be structured as a co-production between the French and Hollywood partners. “Ideally we would like to make money in America with the original film, but if we can’t, then we would consider a remake,” said Becker.

History is not on their side. Gaumont paid for the American dub of “Les Visiteurs,” and Miramax gave Mel Brooks a virtually limitless period to get it right. One year later and there’s still no sign of a releasable print. A Gaumont source said that after two tests, more tweaking was being done, but there remained a question mark over whether the film would ever be distributed. Becker believes “Les Visiteurs” was simply too French to translate successfully. “Indien,” he hopes, will be a different story.

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