French thriller earns $2.3 mil in five weeks

PARIS The bigger distribs don’t always get it right when it comes to foreign pics, as the stylish Gallic thriller “Tell No One” is proving.

Considered “too American” by the major buyers, the pic, adapted from an American novel by Harlan Coben has earned $2.3 million in five weeks at the U.S. box office for new Chicago-based indie distrib Music Box Films, while drawing beaucoup bouquets from heavyweight U.S. crix.

The L.A. Times’ Kenneth Turan began his review, “Tell everyone about ‘Tell No One.’ ”

The New Yorker’s David Denby compared the pic’s leading man Francois Cluzet to Dustin Hoffman, no less, while musing regretfully: “An American version of this material would have had too many explosions and far too much violence, and it would have been similar to 30 other thrillers made here during the last 10 years.”

In his soph effort, helmer Guillaume Canet has transposed the action to a French setting. “Tell No One” revolves around a man’s search to find out the truth about his beloved wife’s apparent murder, eight years earlier. His hopes are raised that she might still be alive when he receives an email that appears to have come from her.

In France, the film notched close to 3 million admissions, sold some 450,000 DVDs and won two major Cesar awards — director for Canet and actor for Cluzet — while snagging best film at the Lumieres, France’s version of the Golden Globes.

It sold all over the world, its overseas rights going for $5 million before EuropaCorp, which financed and co-produced the film, gave up trying to compete against the bigger U.S. players and concluded a deal with Music Box at the Toronto fest for a “low six-figure” sum, according to the distributor.

EuropaCorp co-topper Pierre-Ange Le Pogam, who produced the film with Alain Attal of the Gallic indie shingle Les Films du Tresor, recalls: “All of the major U.S. buyers saw it. Everyone liked it, but they were reticent because they felt it resembled an American film too much. We persevered because we were determined to see it come out in the U.S., and we’re very happy that it has finally been so well received there.”

Music Box released the film on a modest eight screens in New York and Los Angeles on July 2, for the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

“Landmark Theaters saw ‘Tell No One’ early, liked it a lot and was casting about for playable films. This summer has been short on playable arthouse films, so there was a paucity of competition that created a window for us,” Music Box’s Edward Arendtz says.

Stoked by positive reviews and word of mouth, the film is still going strong, drawing per-screen averages of $5,300. Music Box was due to increase the number of prints from 97 to 105 in the film’s sixth weekend.

“I think it is going to keep cruising into September,” Arendtz says. “We still have key locations to open, such as south Florida and Arizona.”

He’s banking on a final cume of $4 million-$5 million, but already “Tell No One” is the most successful French language film in the U.S. this year.

“It is like a racehorse,” Arendtz says. “With the right film, even a smaller company can really scale things up and do as good a job of releasing a film as a bigger, better-known company.”

But why did the more established U.S. distribs let the pic slip through their fingers?

Despite evidence that commercial French fare can work — the Edith Piaf biopic “La Vie en Rose” grossed roughly $8 million in the U.S. — American distributors tend to be wary of films that have been successful at the box office in France.

“There’s reverse discrimination,” Arendtz says. “If a film is a commercial hit in France, it is perceived as not exportable. But ‘Tell No One’ proves the arthouse and commercial can overlap.”

The pic also performed well in the U.K., another market usually hostile to commercial French fare, grossing $2.3 million for indie distrib Revolver.

Thanks to its results in U.S., “Tell No One” may reach another swathe of English-speaking moviegoers in Canada. Canadian distrib Seville released it in French-speaking Quebec, but it did not open in the rest of the country, and the DVD that went on sale in Canada is French only.

The icing on the cake, though, is for EuropaCorp. Having had such a hard time with the film Stateside, the company is now flooded with offers for remake rights.

“We’re in negotiations with several companies,” Le Pogam says.

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