Global buyers ring ‘Diving Bell’

Pathe has versions in English and French

Buyers have their checkbooks poised for competition pic “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” which screens today.

The Pathe-backed tearjerker pre-sold to around 10 territories at Berlin on the basis of a three-minute promo reel.

Word has it that the Weinstein Co. tried to buy it preemptively for North America before Cannes, but now the company and other interested U.S. distribs are lining up to see if the pic lives up to its buzz..

One U.S. buyer said of today’s screening, “It’s going to be a zoo to get in.”

Pathe is also screening the pic in Los Angeles and New York today for studio bosses who aren’t in Cannes.

The pic is based on the autobiography by French Elle magazine editor Jean- Dominique Bauby. Steven Spielberg had bought rights shortly after the book was published and the film was at one point in the pipeline at Universal as an English-language pic with Johnny Depp.

Pathe took over the project at Cannes last year, and the pic lensed just a few months later, in September and October in Paris and Northern France, at the hospital where Bauby spent his last months.

Per sales agent Pathe, the Berlin promo reel prompted a bidding war in several territories, including Japan, where it was picked up by Asmik Ace. Bim bought it for Italy.

Besides the original French-language version, Pathe, distributing theatrically in the U.K. France and Benelux, has an English version dubbed by pic’s actors, who are all English speakers.

Bauby was a cultivated bon vivant whose life changed dramatically when a stroke left him mostly paralyzed.

He wrote the book by blinking his left eyelid, the one part of his body still mobile, and he died in March 1997, shortly after it was published. The book went on to become a global bestseller.

Despite its downbeat premise, those who’ve seen the pic, helmed by Julian Schnabel, written by Ron Harwood and produced by Kathleen Kennedy and John Kilik, say it is a life-affirming tale.

Tonight’s gala screening will be attended by Bauby’s widow, French TV topper Sylvie de la Rochefoucauld, and their two children.

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