Gallic MKL partners part ways

PARIS — Five years after two of France’s most respected indie producers, MK2 and Lazennec, teamed up to create a joint distribution company MKL, the pair are splitting up.

Neither side will give the reasons for the divorce, but MKL’s 1996 results were underwhelming and hopes that Mathieu Kassovitz’s “Assassin(s)” would put a burner under MKL this year have proved misplaced. “Assassin(s)” has so far taken $2.5 million at French cinemas, far below MKL’s earlier expectations.

Tough environment

The demise of MKL underlines the difficulty facing indie distributors in France as competition for a handful of pics, not in the hands of major groups, increases. In 1995, MKL was on something of a roll, thanks to the $12 million grossing “La Haine” from Kassovitz and Claude Chabrol’s “La Ceremonie,” which took $6 million at the box office. The Kassovitz pic was produced by Lazennec, while MK2 turned out “La Ceremonie.” Box office for the 16 films released that year totaled a respectable $23 million.

Last year, however, B.O. results for MKL were down 90%, with 16 titles yielding just $2.6 million amid a string of flops that included “Anna Oz.”

Prod’n emphasis

Both Lazennec and MK2 are director-driven production companies. MK2 president Marin Karmitz worked regularly with Krzysztof Kieslowski, producing the “Three Colors” trilogy, and has produced a string of Chabrol pics. Lazennec’s three producing partners, Alain Rocca, Adeline Lecallier and Christophe Rossignon work with Kassovitz, Tran Anh Hung and Eric Rochant, all of whom have hit choppy directorial waters recently.

“The difficulty for a company like MKL is if the production arms are going through a bad patch,” noted a rival distribution head, “that leaves the distribution side high and dry.”

Under the terms of the separation, MK2 will buy out Lazennec’s stake in MKL and will revert to being MK2 Diffusion, the distribution entity that Karmitz established in the 1970s. Lazennec is expected to turn to outside distributors for the release of its pics.

The split becomes effective at the end to this month.

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