Upcoming films to profile Chanel, Sagan

PARIS After striking box office gold and winning armfuls of kudos around the world, “La Vie en Rose” has helped kickstart a wave of celeb biopics in France.

Celebrity culture traditionally has been frowned upon in Gaul and, reflecting that, movies about famous people have tended to focus on the lives of the worthy: resistance figures such as in “Lucie Aubrac” or political leaders such as with “The Last Mitterrand.”

But after Marion Cotillard’s Oscar-winning star turn as Edith Piaf, French thesps are lining up to portray pop icons.

Later this year Audrey Tautou will don red lipstick and pearls in “Coco Before Chanel.”

Produced by indie label Haut et Court and directed by Anne Fontaine, project about the early life of French fashion legend Coco Chanel was one of the hottest properties at the recent Berlin market. International sales agent and backer Films Distribution is in exclusive negotiations on a multiterritory deal with a major studio, believed to be Warner Bros.

“The entire world is presold,” Films Distribution topper Nicolas Brigaud-Robert said last week.

“When your starting point is a famous person with a fascinating life, a large part of the presales marketing is already done for you,” Brigaud-Robert explained.

Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp has also leapt on the biopic bandwagon, taking French and worldwide rights to “Sagan.” The movie stars look-alike thesp Sylvie Testud as Francoise Sagan, groundbreaking author at 18 of the international bestseller “Bonjour Tristesse,” whose colorful life was as glamorous and event-filled as her novels.

Helmer-producer Diane Kurys originally sold the project to France Televisions as a x3.7 million made-for TV two-parter; thinking no backer would be interested in the material as a feature film.

“There was so much to say about Francois Sagan’s life that it would be a long, expensive film, and I didn’t think I would get the money for it,” Kurys says.

Then in the spring of 2007 she saw “La Vie en rose.”

“I immediately thought that I, too, should be making a film about Sagan, and I was mad,” she recalls.

Reluctant at first, France Televisions eventually allowed Kurys to make two versions, one for TV, one for theatrical. EuropaCorp is slated to release “Sagan” in June, three months before its TV airing.

While lovers of literature the world over know Sagan, Josephine Baker, the black American performer who took Paris by storm in the 1920s, seems even more promising material for a biopic.

Indie producer Christine Gozlan’s Thelma Films has teamed with StudioCanal to develop an English-language project about Baker, based on a treatment by one of the artist’s sons. StudioCanal is looking for a U.S. helmer to direct. Her life was previous depicted in a 1991 U.S. TV film starring Lynn Whitfield.

However, not all of the current crop of French celeb biopics will necessarily find an audience abroad. Take “Coluche,” which will be released by indie distrib Mars later this year. More than two decades after his death in a motorcycle accident, Gallic comedian Coluche remains a towering figure in France, but he is pretty much unknown in the rest of the world.

In another vein, two biopic projects from produer Thomas Langmann will feature personalities who are notorious rather than famous: Christophe Rocancourt, the French confidence trickster who conned Hollywood, and the 1970s gangster Jacques Mesrine.

“I think the French public has always been interested in people’s lives, even if French cinema hasn’t always told these stories,” Kurys says. “They are compelling because they are about real life. I know they fascinate me.”

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