Genre pics light up Gallic sales slates

The French film market may not be recession-proof, but last year’s box office revenues emphasize its overall strength.

At home, the Gallic B.O. jumped by more than 6%, while abroad admissions for French films have climbed 17% to a record 78 million, as of Jan. 17.

“The films that work the best in France right now are PG-13 comedies and biopics with strong casts,” says Pascal Diot, director of IDPL, a Paris-based production and distribution shingle.

This year, the most buzzed-about laffers at the market include Wild Bunch’s comedy “Le petit Nicolas”; StudioCanal’s “Coco,” starring popular comedian Gad Elmaleh; and spy laffer “OSS 117: Rio ne repond plus,” a sequel to hit “OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies,” which garnered 2.2 million admissions in Gaul and was distribbed in most key territories including the U.S. and U.K. — Gaumont is selling the new pic at EFM.

A wave of French genre films has also punched high numbers, including Jean-Francois Richet’s “Mesrine,” distributed by Pathe (2.2 million) and EuropaCorp’s “Transporter” (1.4 million).

This trend toward thrillers and actioners will hold in 2009.

After a mediocre year, Wild Bunch scored with December 2008 superhero film “Largo Winch” and has signed on to distribute the sequel.

And now more arthouse-oriented sales companies are catching onto the trend.

StudioCanal is repping thriller “Red Riding” and “Cotton,” a horror film produced by Eli Roth for Strike Entertainment. Shingle Bac Films is selling thriller “Legal Aid,” in the vein of “The Firm,” which is slated for an April French bow. French sales shingle Elle Driver has just nabbed international rights to zombie pic and Sundance screener “Dead Snow,” while Coach 14 is repping thriller “Carre blanc.”

As for the stereotypical French art film: Despite successful sales and box office in some territories — most recently the U.S. — “these breakthroughs remain exceptions,” warns Films Distribution’s Francois Yon. “The vast majority of art films are failing to attract buyers.”

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