European filmmakers cross over

New wave of directors ignore boundaries

The term “Euro pudding” referred to a flood of films from the 1960s and ’70s like “The Cassandra Crossing,” “Woman Times Seven” and “The Fifth Musketeer,” combining a melange of international talents such as a German actress, French actor and Italian director in hopes of luring coin (and audiences) from each country. The result was, more often than not, a mish-mash of competing accents and confused artistic vision.

Now, a new generation of European filmmakers is creating a more organic flavor of Euro pudding. Filmmakers like the Teuton-Turkish Fatih Akin and French-Algerian Rachid Bouchareb are making films that tackle the growing interconnectivity of European society.

Their transborder films are much more personal — and the result is that the films are both artistically and financially more successsful than the old puddings.

These new Europeans are in many ways the future of the European film industry, says Hengameh Panahi, co-topper of Dreamachine, the new international sales company combining Panahi’s Celluloid Dreams and Jeremy Thomas’ Hanway Films.

“Distributors don’t care about masterpieces anymore. They want to make a living,” says Paneh. “These second-generation and exiled directors, who may have belonged to a different culture but have grown up in Europe, are not elitist. They’re telling real stories that appeal to everyone.”

The films appeal to audiences hungry for films that reflect their lives. The October 2006 riots in Paris were fueled by immigrants who felt invisible to French society — a claim largely reflected in most French films. Similar unrest is felt in many other European countries, and the new wave of filmmakers reflect the changes the continent is experiencing.

The political changes seem to stir up the artistic juices. The E.U. now consists of 27 states, thanks to the additions in January of Bulgaria and Romania, with the latter country’s filmmakers seemingly unable to go to a film fest these days without picking up an award, such as Cannes’ Palme d’Or for Romania’s “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.”

“In Romania, the political system has changed, and their films are reflecting this,” says Jan Vandierendonck, topper with pan-European funding org Eurimages. “We’re seeing this double migration in Europe, where countries themselves are migrating, not just people.”

Bosnian-Croatian-German-Austrian co-production “Grbavica” won last year’s Golden Bear at Berlin with its story of a mother and daughter living in post-war Sarajevo. “The Serbs of today are not the Serbs of 20 years ago,” continues Vandierendonck. “In the Balkans, people changed without actually moving.”

Of all the emerging filmmakers, Akin is in many ways the leader of the pack. “The Edge of Heaven,” which won the screenplay award at this year’s Cannes fest, travels back and forth between Germany and Turkey, weaving a hypnotic mosaic of Eastern and Western influences.

The film continues the helmer’s exploration of immigration and social integration that has been a constant throughout his career. It follows his 2004 Golden Bear-winning “Head-On” — a blood-stained punk poem to love and all its catastrophes that remains the best single depiction of Muslims living in the West — and is the second part of his proposed “Love, Death, Devil” trilogy.

For “Edge of Heaven,” Akin cast two icons of German and Turkish cinema: Hanna Schygulla and Tuncel Kurtiz, respectively. “I had this wonderful opportunity to bring together and mix these systems, ideas and nations,” says Akin. “I could include the spirit of these two icons, and in a way it reflects the world of today — not just Europe but also out of Europe. We’re all now directors from the globalized generation.”

Bouchareb is another example of this trend. His 2006 feature “Days of Glory,” about Arab North African and African soldiers from France’s former colonies who fought to liberate Gaul from Nazi occupation during World War II, was a sensation on its French release last year. Pic brought in more than 3 million admissions and convinced then-French prexy Jacques Chirac to change the law, and end decades of injustice by upping pensions for war vets of North African origin to the levels of French vets’ pensions. The international co-production between France and Morocco (with Algeria and Belgium co-producing) garnered a foreign language Oscar nom — as Algeria’s official entry.

That, however, did not stop it being embraced as a French film.

“I think it’s the first time a film like this in France changed things from a cinematic and economic point of view,” Bouchareb says. “It made a lot of money for French producers and it helped French cinema to outgross American films here for the first time in 10 years. At that moment, it became a French film. I’ve always regarded France and French society with the eyes of a child of immigrants, but as the same time, I’ve always known my place is within French cinema.”

Others who have been part of the trend toward globalized themes include Algerian-born helmer Karim Traidia (the 1998 “De Pulse Bruid”), Polish-born U.K. helmer Pawel Pawlikovski (who began making docus in the 1990s and whose pics include the 2004 Brit pic “My Summer of Love”) and Turkish-born Italian helmer Ferzan Ozpetek (“Le Fate Ignoranti”).

“Just look at Marjane Satrapi and ‘Persepolis.’ It’s selling like crazy in France,” says Dreamachine’s Panahi. “Even though it’s about a girl growing up in Iran, French people are leaving the cinema feeling they’ve been given something valuable.”

“Persepolis,” an animated pic based on Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical, bestselling graphic novel about her experiences growing up in Iran at the time of the 1979 revolution, has been a smash in Gaul. Toon has grossed 3.7 million over two frames, and seen its release expanded from an initial 199 prints to 370. Satrapi, though born and bred in Iran, now lives in France, and the pic was produced with French coin. Pic’s language is French, with the mother-daughter team of Catherine Deneuve and Chiara Mastroianni providing the central voices.

The migration has also crossed oceans. U.S. helmer Julian Schnabel came to France for “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” Pic, which won the painter-turned-filmmaker a director prize at Cannes, is based on the memoirs of Elle France editor Jean-Dominique Bauby, who suffered a stroke, leaving him almost entirely paralyzed.

Schnabel shot the film in French despite being less than fluent in the language. It’s a further sign, perhaps, of the growing acceptance among European film execs for the idea of collaborating with diverse cultural influences.

“It was a French film made in France; it was in French, it’s a French story with a French sensibility,” Schnabel says. “It just happens that I was born in the United States, but my father’s from Czechoslovakia and my mother is from Romania. Everybody is from somewhere.

“If we want our children to survive in this world, they ought to be part of it rather than separated from it. We need to hear each other’s voices and listen, become acquainted with what’s different to us to the point that’s what foreign will not seem foreign any more.”

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