French warm to Barcelona-set pic

PARIS — It has become a habit for Cedric Klapisch to put in an Alfred Hitchcock-style blink-or-you’ll-miss-him cameo in his pics. The 40-year-old Gallic helmer’s latest “L’Auberge Espagnole” is no exception, with a short sequence where Klapisch plays a stressed-out teacher trying to find his next class. It’s an image reminiscent of the real-life role Klapisch played as helmer and hand-holder to “L’Auberge Espagnole’s” cast of up-and-coming European thesps.

The Barcelona-based comedy, which recounts the adventures of a bunch of foreign exchange students living in the same flat has so far proved to be the standout Gallic pic of the summer, grossing just under $7 million in its first two weeks at the French box office. (To date Klapisch’s most successful pic has been 1996’s “Family Resemblances,” which ended up with a domestic gross of around $18 million).

It’s a welcome return to form for Klapisch, whose last pic, the big-budget futuristic adventure “Maybe,” starring Jean-Paul Belmondo, was thoroughly lambasted by French critics and did not do as well as hoped for at the B.O.

However, Klapisch is not one for regrets: “I would never have been able to make ‘L’Auberge Espagnole’ if I hadn’t done ‘Maybe,’ he says. “I learned so much about special effects and the art of filmmaking on that movie. When it didn’t work out as well as I hoped for, it was not such a blow.”

Klapisch has quickly been putting this newfound knowledge to good use, and already has his seventh feature, the heist thriller “Ni Pour, ni contre (bien au contraire),” in the can and pegged for a January release. Klapisch hopes this new pic, which stars Vincent Elbaz and Marie Gillain, will be the one to convince audiences he can tackle a different genre.

“I don’t want to get pigeonholed as a director of a certain kind of movie, in my case the ensemble comedy or drama,” Klapisch tells Variety. “It’s hard, because after a while, the public starts to expect a certain type of movie from you, so you have to convince them to like something else. To do that, you have to learn how to follow certain genre conventions like that of the heist movie.”

Despite working in various genres, Klapisch likes to surround himself with familiar faces, and regularly uses the same thesps and technicians. Romain Duris, who is an engaging lead in “L’Auberge Espagnole,” has starred in three of the helmer’s prior pics (“Maybe”, “When the Cat’s Away” and “Good Old Daze”). Klapisch may have worked with Belmondo, but he is not interested in working with name thesps just for the sake of it.

“I’ve learned that you can’t make an actor fit a particular role just because he is well known,” he says. “You have to get the best actor for that role, just like in “When the Cat’s Away,” nobody knew Garance Clavel, but I knew she was right for the role.”

This approach has certainly not put off foreign distributors, notably U.S. ones, from picking up all of Klapisch’s more recent pics, including “L’Auberge Espagnole,” which will make its Stateside bow next May. “Yeah, it was a nice surprise at this year’s Cannes festival. The woman from Fox Searchlight saw it and rung me up the next day and immediately acquired the rights,” says Klapisch.

For a while, it looked like Miramax, which bought the rights to “When the Cat’s Away” was going to do a U.S. remake with Heather Graham as the young woman who loses her cat and will stop at nothing to get him back.

Klapisch was even approached to helm the remake after original choice Brad Anderson dropped out, but the Gallic helmer declined the offer and says now that the idea of making the same film twice did not interest him. The project is now in turnaround at Miramax.

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