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Stat junkie’s dream comes true on Web

LONDON — If you’re like me, endlessly fascinated by the differing appetites for foreign-language fare across the continent and the channel, there is a database Web site that is a film stat junkie’s dream.

Launched out of Brussels via the wonderfully named European Audiovisual Observatory (EAO) last November with nearly zero fanfare was Lumiere (lumiere.obs.coe.int/web/EN/search.php).

You can pick through the info on a film like Pedro Almodovar’s “All About My Mother.” Nearly five times as many tickets were sold in France (2,060,000) for the Spanish Oscar-winner than in the U.S. (419,963).

But strangely, only 81 tickets were logged for the Netherlands, while 139,514 spun through the turnstiles in fellow Beneluxers in Belgium. (Maybe I’ve stumbled onto a database glitch; another reward for the obsessive stats hunter!)

Of course, if you love Euro cinema, it’s also often an exercise in extreme masochism, so be warned. Many have written that European films don’t travel well, but Lumiere illustrates this fact with often stark statistics.

Say you saw a terrific film like Leander Haussmann’s German hit comedy “Sun Alley” (according to Lumiere, 1,865,611 admissions in Germany in 1999) and wanted to find out if it broke out in any other Euro markets.

With only 15,608 tickets sold in Austria and Switzerland and zippo anywhere else, it’s a prime example of the frustrations faced by makers of smart, entertaining and involving films that can’t break the language and cultural barriers.

Another example is Claude Miller’s 1998 French psychological thriller “Class Trip.” Falling in the doomed land of “tweeners” — not American indie, not Euro arty enough or down and dirty exploitative enough — it’s another example of the resistance Euro filmmakers face.

Lumiere reports a modest 90,082 admissions in France and le not-so-grande total of 20,627 spread between Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Great Britain, Norway and Ireland.

Of course there’s a hard-nosed, practical reason to surf the data base.

Stats are the lifeblood of professionals like Paul Madigan, managing director of Essential Television Statistics, creators and trackers of television airings in Europe since 1993. Madigan calls Lumiere “a quantum leap for rights holders.”

Lumiere’s appeal, Madigan says, is partially a case of a great service whose time was long overdue. “For years,” he explains, “you could only track your interest in a film’s theatrical release in Europe if you were in the box office top 10. Lumiere tracks all theatrically released films.”

Like a proud father, the site’s director, AEO expert-in-market-information Andre Lange is keen for the world to beat a path to Lumiere’s door, which he hopes to keep open and free “for composers, directors, screenwriters, independent producers. I don’t want this to be a pay service used only by the major studios, big distributors and broadcasters” Lange says.

So why the low-profile launch? Lange, a 20-year vet of market research explains, “We don’t plan to have any in-depth promotion on Lumiere until Cannes.” By then, Lange says, the site will be unveiling “a breakdown of the top 50 European films in Europe, as well as a first-ever television fiction survey across the top five territories in Europe.”

But scratch a stats man and you find a film buff. Lange admits that he’s also “fascinated” by the random extrapolations provided by Lumiere.

“Bille August’s ‘Smilla’s Sense of Snow’ was a hit in Italy (247,659 admissions) and Spain (332,244) but did nothing (31,898) in France. I don’t know the reason.” Even the stats master’s mettle is tested by the sweet mysteries of the marketplace.

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