French films break into America

Gallic producers adapt to changing tastes

While the glory days of Godard, Truffaut and Rohmer — when foreign-language films were considered cultural sport for discerning viewers — are a distant memory, a slew of recent French arthouse films did manage to break through at the American box office, such as the Kristin Scott Thomas starrer “I’ve Loved You So Long,” ($3.16 million) and the animated-feature “Persepolis,” ($4.44 million).

But French distribution execs see the decline of studio specialty arms in the U.S. as a sign that French productions must, and have, expanded beyond their intimist niche base, as cited by Francois Yon, co-founder of Paris-based shingle Films Distribution.   

Signs of the new order are reflected in such French-made, English-language actioners as the Luc Besson-produced “Taken,” ($137.6 million Stateside) and Mathieu Kassovitz’s “Babylon A.D.” ($22.5 million in the U.S.).

A wide range of Gallic companies has also picked up the trend. In December, Wild Bunch released “Largo Winch,” a comicbook adaptation partly shot in English, while La Fabrique de Films is developing “La Marque Jaune,” also based on a graphic novel, to be shot in English.

Different genres also are being explored. After Jean Francois Richet earned high marks with the gangster epic “Mesrine,” Olivier Assayas will depict Venezuelan terrorist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, another dangerous mind, in “Carlos,” a $17 million biopic produced by StudioCanal.

Biopics of French cultural icons are also gaining ground, driven by the international success of “La Vie en rose.” Warner Bros., co-producers of “Coco Before Chanel,” are hoping to attract similar crowds in the U.S.; ditto for Joann Sfar’s “Serge Gainsbourg, vie heroique,” co-produced by Universal and scheduled for a February release.

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