Kechiche to direct ‘Black Venus’

Film profiles Sarah Baartman

PARIS — Tunisian-born director Abdellatif Kechiche, who broke through with the Cesar-winning “The Secret of the Grain,” will direct historical biopic “Black Venus.”

Kechiche’s film turns on a 19th-century true story of the tragic life of a South African tribeswoman, Sarah Baartman. Born with physical deformities, she ended up being exhibited as a circus freak in Paris.

The $13 million-$16 million “Venus,” which shoots later this spring featuring an unknown lede, is the first of three films in a production pact between Kechiche and Marin Karmitz’s mini-major MK2.

MK2 will be introducing the film to buyers at the 11th Unifrance Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, which kicked off Thursday morning at Paris’ august Grand Hotel.

Running Jan. 15-19, this year’s Rendez-Vous has a lower profile than previous editions in terms of the number of films screening — 82 films, including 39 market preems.

However, some titles unspooling in Paris do come with considerable cache and sales. One such pic is “Silent Wedding,” a Romanian bucolic-comedy-come-political horror tale being sold by Bac. It has its Euro preem at the Rendez-Vous.

Another is painter bio “Seraphine,” a recent Music Box acquisition for the U.S., sold by Roissy.

A third much sought-after titles is bumbling hitman comedy “Louise-Michel,” which has added a Fandango sale to Italy to its score of overseas deals.

Of market preems, there’s some buzz on StudioCanal’s “Change of Plans,” from Daniele Thompson.

There’s also demand for Benjamin Marquet’s coming-of-age docu feature “Lads and Jockeys,” which has galloped out for Les Films du Losange with an all-rights sale for Japan to CK Ent.

The ambition of many buyers will be to locate a comedy sleeper hit along the lines of last year’s “Welcome to the Sticks,” which played to shrieks of laughter at the 2008 Rendez-Vous and went on to score boffo box office in several foreign territories.

One candidate is Pascale Pouzadoux’s marriage comedy “Changing Sides,” which is being sold by Elle Driver. Boosted by the presence of “Sticks” star Dany Boon, the pic has grossed a first-week Euros3.1 million ($4.1 million) in France.

But, with other talked-up titles not screening — Francois Ozon’s “Ricky,” sold by Le Pacte, for one — international distributors at this year’s Rendez-Vous face a treasure hunt for discoveries among market preems, most of which are small films from little known auteurs.

They also will face a plethora of titles that sales agents will be warming up for Berlin and Cannes, sometimes announcing key sales to demonstrate the films’ commercial potential.

Announcements Wednesday and Thursday included:

* Co-Production Office has acquired international rights to Jessica Hausner’s “Lourdes,” about a miracle cure; Shiri Neshat’s femme drama, “Summer 1953,” set against the 1953 CIA-backed coup d’etat in Iran; and a historical toonpic — which, after “Waltz With Bashir,” will at least stir buyers’ curiosity — “Memory Hotel,” about two children’s friendship in a hotel first occupied by the Nazis and then the Red Army.

* Bac Films has taken Catherine Deneuve starrer “The Kitchen,” helmed by Julie Lopes-Curval.

* Coach 14’s “A Man and His Dog” has clinched a deal with German pubcaster ARD.

* TF1 Intl. has taken overseas rights on three family-themed films: drama “Gamines,” based on Sylvie Testud’s novel and produced by Agat Films’ Blanche Guichou and Robert Guediguian; Thomas Gilou’s laffer “Victor,” starring vet thesp Pierre Richard as a family-less grandpa angling for adoption; Ivan Calberac’s dramedy, “Alternative Weeks with Half the Vacation,” about a family re-organizing post-divorce, which toplines Mathilde Seigner and is produced by Mandarin Films.

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