France: Blooming ‘Flowers’ keeps distrib Bac in the game

Territory Reports

B.O. cume (through August): 116 million admissions (-13.2%)
Top title: “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” (Fox, 7.2 million admissions)

“Babel” (Mars)
“The Libertine” (Metropolitan)
“Shortbus” (Bac)
“Tom yum goong” (TFM)
“Twelve and Holding” (Diaphana)

“Babylon AD”: Mathieu Kassovitz’s much awaited English-lingo adaptation of future-set French novel “Babylon Babies,” produced by Alain Goldman with a budget of $65 million. Studio Canal is selling European territories, Fox has taken North America and rest of the world. (Sales: Studio Canal)
“Pan’s Labyrinth”: “Hellboy” helmer Guillermo del Toro’s $12 million dark fairy tale, which began shooting in Spain in July with a Spanish cast. (Sales: Wild Bunch)
“Mesrine”: After some glitches, the two-pic story of a French underworld legend has been revived by producer Thomas Langmann with Vincent Cassel back on board as the lead and with Jean-Francois Richet replacing Barbet Schroeder at the helm. (Sales: TBA)

PARIS — Much like other territories, the box office in France is down this year — but a handful of recent arthouse successes suggest there’s hope yet for the Gallic indie sector.

Jim Jarmusch’s “Broken Flowers” provided a welcome boost for Jean Labadie’s Bac Distribution, notching up more than a million admissions, Jarmusch’s best French box office perf to date.

The Larrieux brothers’ “Peindre ou faire l’amour,” much scoffed at by critics when it was screened in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, racked up a healthy 650,000-plus admissions for distrib Pyramide in an extended stay on French screens.

Michael Haneke’s “Caché,” another Cannes competitor, opened strongly for Les Films du Losange in October, while doggy tale “Bombon el perro” wagged TFM’s tail with a respectable 150,000 admissions.

TFM — Miramax’s former French partner, which is teaming up with the new Weinstein Co. — is France’s top indie distrib so far this year, grabbing an 11% market share thanks to a strong first half led by Gallic hit comedy “Brice de Nice” with 4.4 million admissions.

The relative good health of specialist fare has sparked some optimism in an otherwise fairly pessimistic market.

“It has been encouraging to see so many arthouse films do well these past few months,” opined Jean-Philippe Tirel, assistant managing director of Pan Européene Edition, Wild Bunch’s theatrical distribution unit. “It goes some way towards compensating for the fall in ticket sales and the very rapid drop off rates among new releases these days. Almost everything drops off 50% after its first week.”

Pan Européene’s upcoming releases include Abel Ferrara’s Venice prize winner “Mary,” which it will release at Christmas. At last year’s AFM, the distrib picked up “Sin City.” Tirel says he will be shopping for “something similarly high profile” this year.

Ancillary business is also nothing to write home about. It is not unusual to see 15 to 18 films bow on French screens the same week — that’s too many for local broadcasters to absorb.

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