Toronto Spotlight: French at Toronto

At Cannes this year, the French sales sector scored an avalanche of deals, proving the market had finally bounced back, at least in terms of trading volume. However, for arthouse and first-time director fare, the big picture isn’t as bright.

“Buyers are willing to pay more to access top product, but average prices per film have dropped compared to pre-recession,” says Muriel Sauzay, international sales head at Pathe, which has Anne Fontaine’s “My Worst Nightmare” and Nadine Labaki’s Lebanese-language “Where Do We Go Now?” at Toronto.

Bigger sales companies with TV and/or theatrical operations — including StudioCanal, TF1, SND and Pathe — have been directing their efforts toward English-language pics, genre films and higher-bracket mainstream movies, while focusing on fewer bold auteur films.

With fewer deep-pocketed players Stateside, Gallic powerhouses have turned to independent films with familiar casts and strong marketing potential.

“English-language films and costumers with a good director attached, a cast and a solid script sell well in this market,” says Sauzey, pointing to Pathe-repped Meryl Street starrer “The Iron Lady,” which nearly sold out at Cannes.

Amid the recession, Studio Canal started fully or partially financing high-profile pics for the international market, including “The Last Exorcism,” “The Tourist” and upcoming CG adventure movie “The Dinosaur Project.”

In 2008, the company’s lineup was 90% French-language films; today, 70% of its roster is in English, according to StudioCanal head of international sales Harold Van Lier, who recently acquired Nick Murphy’s chiller “The Awakening,” set to bow at Toronto.

TF1 Droits Audiovisuels (formerly TF1 Intl.) has followed the same path, acquiring more genre and indie pics from the U.S., U.K., Australia and Canada. The outfit’s English-lingo titles include Toronto gala “Take This Waltz,” directed by Sarah Polley, “Hobo With a Shotgun” and suspenser “388 Arletta Avenue.” TF1 most recently acquired Ol Parker’s “Now Is Good.”

Meanwhile, SND has been piling up on low-budget genre pics, such as Alexandre Courtes’ “The Incident,” which SND produced and sold to major European territories at Cannes.

When it comes to French titles, Gallic sellers agree that romantic comedies are luring more buyers than ever.

“The success of ‘Welcome to the Sticks,’ ‘Heartbreaker,’ ‘Second Chance’ and ‘Service Entrance’ has sparked distributors’ interest for French feel-good comedies and romcoms,” says Lionel Uzan, head of sales and acquisition for SND.

Uzan says he’s closed some important pre-sales on Patrick Bruel starrer “Paris Manhattan” and is in negotiations with American and European buyers for the remake rights to “Service Entrance.” Philippe Rousselet (“Larry Crowne”) produced both films.

But challenges remain for niche, arthouse and first-time director fare.

“The P&A has soared and many smaller films can’t get distribution, or if they do, they go unnoticed, underexposed,” says Hengameh Panahi, head of Celluloid Dreams, which has “Chicken With Plums,” “Beloved” and “The Raid” at Toronto.

Pyramide Intl. prexy Eric Lagesse says his company “worked well with ‘Tomboy,’ ‘Angele and Tony’ and ‘Free Men,’ but if we look at the big picture, only one in 10 auteur films gets worldwide distribution.”

With first films, a festival berth remains essential to kick off sales, says Camille Neel, international sales topper at Le Pacte, which has two debut features at Venice and Toronto: John Shank’s “Last Winter” and Michale Boganim’s “The Land of Oblivion.”

According to Wide Management sales head Anais Clanet, since access to theaters has become increasingly difficult for smaller titles with no marquee cast, one strategy is to work with arthouse distribs that own screens and select pics that have a different angle and crossover appeal, such as Israeli first-timer Nadav Lapid’s “Policeman,” a Locarno special jury prize winner.

Meanwhile, the decline of TV sales is one of the arthouse sector’s main concerns, says Regine Hatchondo, managing director of promotion org Unifrance.

“Traditional TV networks have been hurt by the boom of DTT channels and that has hurt the arthouse film business: Smaller distributors are unable to put up decent minimum guarantees because they know TV sales prospects are slim.”

Though TV sales may be tough to clinch for arthouse pics, Van Lier says for mainstream pics, “TV backing is coming back stronger for local distributors in certain territories.”

Gallic execs agree new digital platforms such as Netflix and LoveFilm offer hope.

“These new players will energize the market, and we can predict that European markets, including the U.K., Germany, Spain and France will get even more competitive,” Van Lier says.

Toronto Trade Drivers
Pics repped by Gallic sales companies at the Toronto fest

GALA PRESENTATIONS

“The Awakening”
Nick Murphy (U.K.)
Intl. sales: StudioCanal
Rebecca Hall plays a hoax-buster facing phenomena she can’t explain in 1920s-set ghost story.

“Beloved”
Christophe Honore (France)
Intl. sales: Celluloid Dreams
This Cannes title — a musical about two generations’ adventures in love — stars Catherine Deneuve and her daughter, Chiara Mastroianni.

“A Happy Event”
Remi Bezancon (France)
Intl. sales: Gaumont
The birth of their first child turns a young couple’s carefree lifestyle upside-down.

“Hysteria”
Tanya Wexler (U.S.-U.K.-Luxembourg-France)
Intl. sales: Elle Driver
Maggie Gyllenhaal and Hugh Dancy star in a comedy about the invention of the vibrator.

“The Lady”
Luc Besson (France-U.K.)
Intl. sales: EuropaCorp
Biopic of Burmese pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi (Michelle Yeoh).

“Take This Waltz”
Sarah Polley (Canada)
Intl. sales: TF1 Intl.
A married woman is faced with a dilemma. Seth Rogen, Sarah Silverman and Michelle Williams star in the director’s anticipated second feature.

SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS

“11 Flowers”
Wang Xiaoshuai (China-France)
Intl. sales: Films Distribution
A vivid portrait of China during the Cultural Revolution.

“360”
Fernando Meirelles (U.K.-Austria-France-Brazil)
Intl. sales: Wild Bunch
Rachel Weisz, Jude Law and Anthony Hopkins star in a series of interlinking love stories.

“Americano”
Mathieu Demy (France)
Intl. sales: Bac Films
A Frenchman returns to L.A. after the death of his mother. Mathieu Demy, Salma Hayek star.

“A Better Life”
Cedric Kahn (France)
Intl. sales: Wild Bunch
Guillaume Canet toplines as a chef struggling in Paris’ cutthroat restaurant world.

“Cafe de flore”
Jean-Marc Vallee (Canada)
Intl. sales: Films Distribution
Two stories: One centers on a devoted mother (Vanessa Paradis) of a boy with Down syndrome in 1969 Paris, another on a DJ (Kevin Parent) going through a messy divorce in present-day Montreal.

“Chicken with Plums”
Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud (France-Germany-Belgium)
Intl. sales: Celluloid Dreams
A crisis forces a celebrated violinist (Mathieu Amalric) to re-evaluate his life. From the helmers of “Persepolis.”

“Elles”
Malgoska Szumowska (France-Poland-Germany)
Intl. sales: Memento
A journalist (Juliette Binoche) investigates prostitution among university students.

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“Low Life”
Nicolas Klotz, Elisabeth Perceval (France)
Intl. sales: Les Films Du Losange
A Paris woman is torn between two poets, one French, the other Afghani.

“Monsieur Lazhar”
Philippe Falardeau (Canada)
Intl. sales: Films Distribution
Elementary school-set character study.

The Moth Diaries
Mary Harron (Canada-Ireland)
Intl. sales: Wild Bunch
Vampire tale set in a girls’ boarding school. Lily Cole, Sarah Bolger star.

“My Worst Nightmare”
Anne Fontaine (France-Belgium)
Intl. sales: Pathe
Light-hearted comedy about a middle-class couple from the helmer of “Coco Before Chanel.” Isabelle Huppert, Benoit Poelvoorde topline.

“Rebellion”
Mathieu Kassovitz (France)
Intl. sales: Kinology
Inspired by an incident in a French colony: An elite soldier is sent to resolve a hostage dispute.

“Terraferma”
Emanuele Crialese (Italy-France)
Intl. sales: Elle Driver
Drama about the effects of immigration and tourism on an Italian island from award-winning director of “Respiro” and “Golden Door.”

“That Summer”
Philippe Garrel (France-Italy-Switzerland)
Intl. sales: Wild Bunch
A painter’s relationship with his wife — a thesp in Italy — unravels after he befriends an aspiring actor and his girlfriend. Monica Bellucci and Louis Garrel topline.

“Where Do We Go Now?”
Nadine Labaki (France-Lebanon-Italy-Egypt)
Intl. sales: Pathe
A comedy-drama about the sectarian conflict in Lebanon from the helmer of “Caramel.”

“The Woman in the Fifth”
Pawel Pawlikowski (France-Poland-U.K.)
Intl. sales: Memento
An American writer in Paris (played by Ethan Hawke) becomes involved with a beguiling woman (Kristin Scott Thomas).

CONTEMPORARY WORLD

“388 Arletta Avenue”
Randall Cole (Canada)
Intl. sales: TF1 Intl.
Stylish and atmospheric thriller about privilege and paranoia seen entirely through surveillance cameras.

“Beauty”
Oliver Hermanus (South Africa-France)
Intl. sales: MK2
Tale of repressed sexuality in South Africa’s Afrikaaner community. Winner of the Queer Palm at Cannes.

“Bonsai”
Cristian Jimenez (Chile-France-Argentina-Portugal)
Intl. sales: Rezo
Helmer’s debut celebrates love, literature and botany in this tale of first love.

“Death for Sale”
Faouzi Bensaidi (Belgium-France-Morrocco)
Intl. sales: Urban Distribution Intl.
Noir portrait of a city abandoned to corrupt officials, smugglers and extremists.

“Elena”
Andrey Zvyagintsev (Russia)
Intl. sales: Pyramide
The wife of an affluent Russian man is pushed to extremes after her husband cuts her out of his will. From the director of “The Return.”

“Extraterrestrial”
Nacho Vigalondo (Spain)
Intl. sales: Wild Bunch
Romance and black comedy combine in this tale about alien invasion.

“Free Men”
Ismael Ferroukhi (France)
Intl. sales: Pyramide
An Algerian black marketeer in 1942 Paris joins the resistance.

Goodbye First Love
Mia Hansen-Love (France-Germany)
Intl. sales: Films Distribution
“The Father of My Children” director focuses on first love between two teenagers.

“Guilty”
Vincent Garenq (France)
Intl. sales: Films Distribution
Philippe Torreton plays a man wrongly accused of pedophilia. Based on a true story.

“Land of Oblivion”
Michale Boganim (France-Germany-Poland-Ukraine)
Intl. sales: Le Pacte
Olga Kurylenko (“Quantum of Solace”) stars in this drama about the Chernobyl disaster. From the helmer of docu “Odessa Odessa.”

“Last Days in Jerusalem”
Tawfik Abu Wael (France-Israel-Palestine-Germany)
Intl. sales: Wide Management
Drama about a Palestinian couple who are about to leave Jerusalem to move to France.

“Last Winter”
John Shank (Belgium-France)
Intl. sales: Le Pacte
Mountain-set drama about a young farmer’s struggle for survival.

“Michael”
Markus Schleinzer (Austria)
Intl. sales: Les Films du Losange
A mousy insurance salesman keeps a boy locked in his basement. Cannes 2011 competition title.

“A Separation”
Asghar Farhadi (Iran)
Intl. sales: Memento
Iranian drama about the breakdown of a marriage. Winner of Berlin’s Golden Bear.

“The Silver Cliff”
Karim Ainouz (Braz)
Intl. sales: Rendez-vous Pictures
A Rio woman struggles to come to terms with the end of her marriage. From the director of

“Madame Sata.”

“Sons of Norway”
Jens Lien (Norway)
Intl. sales: Films Distribution
A teen coping with his mom’s death finds salvation in punk rock.

MIDNIGHT MADNESS

“The Incident”
Alexandre Courtes (France)
Intl. sales: SND Groupe M6
Thriller set in a mental institution imagines what happens when the lunatics get loose.

“Livid”
Julien Maury, Alexandre Bustillo (France)
Intl. sales: SND – Groupe M6
Horror pic in which a group of friends break into an old mansion.

“The Raid”
Gareth Evans (Indonesia)
Intl. sales: Celluloid Nightmares
Swat team battles gangsters in a Jakarta slum apartment block in Toronto Midnight opener.

“Sleepless Night”
Frederic Jardin (France-Belgium-Luxembourg)
Intl. sales: Bac Films
A dirty cop involved in a robbery discovers he’s on his own when his son is kidnapped.

VISION

“House of Tolerance”
Bertrand Bonello (France)
Intl. sales: Films Distribution
Stylized look at life in a fin-de-siecle Paris brothel.

“Play”
Ruben Ostlund (Sweden-France-Denmark)
Intl. sales: Coproduction Office
Sweden-set pic about a gang of immigrants who rob white kids for sport is told in an austere style.

DISCOVERY

“Las Acacias”
Pablo Giorgelli (Argentina-Spain)
Intl. sales: Urban Distribution Intl.
A truck driver strikes up a rapport with a young lady with a baby. Camera d’Or winner at Cannes.

“Among Us”
Marco van Geffen (Netherlands)
Intl. sales: Elle Driver
Unconventional thriller reveals prejudices in story of a Polish nanny working in the Netherlands.

“Breathing”
Karl Markovics (Austria)
Intl. sales: Films Distribution
A young man detained for accidentally killing a minor struggles to get his life back on track.

“The Other Side of Sleep”
Rebecca Daly (Ireland-Hungary-Netherlands)
Intl. sales: Memento
A young woman find
s her life spiralling out of control after a local girl goes missing.

“Summer Games”
Rolando Colla (Italy-Switzerland)
Intl. sales: Rezo
Two teens bond while vacationing at the beach.

“Twiggy”
Emmanuelle Millet (France)
Intl. sales: Films Distribution
A young woman struggles to accept the consequences of her unplanned pregnancy.

“Twilight Portrait”
Angelina Nikonova (Russia)
Intl. sales: Rezo
The life of an affluent Muscovite is shattered after she is raped by three policemen.

VANGUARD

“Carre blanc”
Jean-Baptiste Leonetti (France-Luxembourg-Belgium-Switzerland-Russia)
Intl. sales: Coach 14
Dark, experimental fantasy about corporate life in the future.

“Headshot”
Pen-ek Ratanaruang (Thailand-France)
Intl. sales: Memento
A hitman’s outlook is literally turned upside-down when he becomes the target.

“Love and Bruises”
Lou Ye (France)
Intl. sales: Wild Bunch
A young Chinese teacher finds herself trapped in an abusive relationship with a Parisian construction worker.

MASTERS

“Almayer’s Folly”
Chantal Akerman (Belgium-France)
Intl. sales: Doc & Film Intl.
Adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s novel about a man searching for riches in South East Asia.

“I Wish”
Hirokazu Kore-Eda (Japan)
Intl. sales: Wild Bunch
Lighthearted tale of childhood desires and imaginative adventures.

“The Kid with a Bike”
Jean-Pierre, Luc Dardenne (Belgium-France-Italy)
Intl. sales: Wild Bunch
A boy refuses to accept that he has been abandoned by his parents. Stars Cecile de France.

“Outside Satan”
Bruno Dumont (France)
Intl. sales: Pyramide
A drifter meets a young woman and kills her enemies.

“Snows of Kilimanjaro”
Robert Guediguian (France)
Intl. sales: Films Distribution
Socio-political drama set in a working-class neighborhood in Marseille.

“This Is Not a Film”
Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, Jafar Panahi (Iran)
Intl. sales: Wide Management
Docu follows Panahi as he appeals his conviction for “propaganda against the system.”

REAL TO REEL

“Crazy Horse”
Frederick Wiseman (France-U.S.)
Intl. sales: Celluloid Dreams
Docu about the Parisian cabaret club.

“Duch, Master of the Forges of Hell”
Rithy Panh (France-Cambodia)
Intl. sales: Films Distribution
Exploration of the legacy of Cambodia’s genocide.

TIFF KIDS

“A Monster in Paris”
Bibo Bergeron (France)
Intl. sales: EuropaCorp
The “Shark Tale”co-helmer returned to France to make this Paris-set 3D toon musical adventure.

Full coverage of the Toronto Intl. Film Festival

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