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Co-prods pass the sniff test

'Perfume' perf impresses in Europe

SANTA MONICA — The words “foreign film” used to mean foreign language. Not anymore.

Taking a look at the world box office charts, it’s obvious that local productions are hot, led by the sensation “Perfume: A Murderer’s Tale,” the lit adaptation that has taken in more than $75 million in just a handful of territories.

But the pic, produced by a consortium of companies based in Germany, Spain and France, was shot in English. Never mind the general disinterest of the U.S. marketplace.

Directed by “Run Lola Run” helmer Tom Tykwer, the period pic will be released Dec. 27 by Paramount domestically, but it was inherited by the studio after its merger with DreamWorks. Par brass describe its appeal here as “limited.”

Foreign-language films have mostly been flailing for the past few years in the States, with no heir apparent to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” or “Life Is Beautiful.” But although it’s in English, producers aren’t worrying about the pic’s U.S. release, because it will be well into profit by then.

Starring Ben Whishaw, Dustin Hoffman and Alan Rickman, “Perfume” follows an olfactory-obsessed creep who goes on a crime spree. Pic initially could have been a Hollywood production, but its producers instead decided to find European financing. Other midlevel, English-language pics are in the works.

Such efforts have been tried before, but it’s taken time for the bad taste left behind by the “Europuddings” of the 1980s and ’90s to dissipate in favor of higher-quality productions. This time around, the process starts with proven material like Patrick Suskind’s bestseller instead of producers with access to easy money randomly casting an actor from territory A and hiring a director from territory B.

Pic upstages “Pirates”

“Perfume” has performed well enough to land on the overall world charts with Hollywood fare even though it’s playing on a fraction of the screens. In late September, the pic bested “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” as that pic lost steam, to land at No. 1 in the world charts overall, also surging past UIP’s “World Trade Center.”

“Foreign producers are coming out of the box of Hollywood because of the way the studio system works,” explains Patrick Wachsberger, whose Summit Entertainment reps world rights on “Perfume.” Pic has been sold in every major territory to date.

“Some Europeans feel that in Hollywood, there is a lack of ideas because decisions are made by so many people, by committee. For most European movies, the decisions are made by one filmmaker or producer.”

Wachsberger points to “Perfume’s” dark subject matter as another reason that its producers decided to do an international co-production.

“Look at ‘The Downfall,’ ” he says. “No one in Hollywood would have ever said, ‘Let’s make a movie about Hitler.’ ”

Now Constantin is looking to repeat the success it has had with “Perfume,” by making another English-lingo lit adaptation with international partners.

Company said at the American Film Market last week that it will team with Italo banner Medusa on an adaptation of Donna Cross’ bestseller “Pope Joan,” starring Franka Potente. Pic will be helmed by “The Tin Drum” director Volker Schlondorff, and follows a woman who ascends to the Vatican’s highest office.

This latest example follows a spate of mid-level budgeted Euro projects that are giving Hollywood a run for its money in foreign markets, as many American pics are playing unevenly from territory to territory.

Budgeted in the $25-30 million range, “Joan” will be shot in Bulgaria where ninth century Rome will be recreated.

Territories where “Perfume” has been working are now inundated with other local hits.

In Germany the top 10 is currently stocked with no fewer than five local pics, and French war pic “Indigenes” (Days of Glory), has topped the charts there after a month in release.

“Perfume” opened in September in Germany — in both mainstream multiplexes and arthouses — to see more than 250,000 turn out on opening day, a Thursday, and took No. 1 over imports “Miami Vice” and “Cars,” despite mixed reviews from German critics.

Pic’s producers will have the rare satisfaction seeing U.S. box office merely as icing on top of a many-layered cake — a template which other foreign producers would certainly like to emulate. Next up: English-language pics from Asia, like South Korea’s $70 million “D-War” starring Robert Forster and Jason Behr.

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