Following 'Artist,' more French laffers on the way

PARIS — Trading on the success of “The Artist” and “The Intouchables,” the French film scene is bursting at the seams with comedies designed to not only score at the local box office, but to keep the rest of the world laughing as well.

Joining bigger-budgeted, franchise-based pics such as Laurent Tirard’s €61.2 million ($81.4 million) “Asterix and Obelix: God Save Britannia” and Alain Chabat’s $53.2 million “Marsupilami and the Orchid of Chicxulub,” are a clutch of concept-driven laffers with high production values and midrange budgets that are helping French comedies expand their international reach.

Wild Bunch reps two of this year’s hottest homegrown pics that have sold worldwide: Jean Dujardin starrer “The Players,” a French twist on American R-Rated comedies, and Regis Roinsard’s feature debut, “Populaire,” a 1950’s set romantic comedy toplining “The Artist’s” Berenice Bejo.

“The Players,” a $16 million omnibus comprising six sketches turning on male infidelity, ranks as one of 2012’s biggest B.O. sleeper hits, scoring an estimated $18 million since its Feb. 29 bow.

Out on 583 prints, “The Players” ousted “Why Would I Lie to You 3,” a $34 million laffer, from atop the B.O. It grossed almost half as much as “Lie 3,” which rolled out Feb. 1 on more than 1,000 playdates.

Wild Bunch’s Vincent Maraval says the success of “The Players,” which he sees as the country’s first comedy for teens and oung adults, underscores the changing tastes of French auds.

Those directing sketches in “The Players” include thesps-turned-helmers Dujardin and Gilles Lellouche, as well as Fred Cavaye, Michel Hazanavicius, Eric Lartigau, Alexandre Courtes and Emmanuelle Bercot.

“It’s refreshing to see a new generation of filmmakers and actors like Gilles Lellouche or Jean Dujardin who’ve grown up watching all kinds of comedies from the U.S. or Italy,” Maraval says. “They’re breaking away from the mold of French comedies that are often very conventional and broad-based.”

The Weinstein Co. snatched up U.S. distribution rights before the pic was completed.

“American audiences love these kinds of ‘Hangover’ comedies that are funny and outlandish,” says Weinstein’s David Glasser, who pointed out that one of the pic’s major attractions was the participation of “The Artist’s” Dujardin and Hazanavicius.

Weinstein also picked up U.S. distribution rights for “Populaire,” and is in early negotiations to acquire other territories. Described by Maraval as a “Mad Men”-era fairy tale about a provincial typist with big dreams,” “Populaire,” produced by Alain Attal’s Les Productions du Tresor for $19.5 million, has drawn some comparisons with films from Billy Wilder and Frank Capra, among others.

“The look and feel of ‘Populaire’ is very reminiscent of old classic comedies,” Glasser says. “Harvey (Weinstein) and I saw 20 minutes of it, and then we read the script, and we just loved everything about this movie.”

Meanwhile, Pathe (Dany Boon’s “Welcome to the Sticks” and “Nothing to Declare” will roll out “Le Prenom,” helmed by up-and-comers Alexandre de La Patelliere and Matthieu Delaporte, on April 25.

Produced by Dimitri Rassam at Chapter 2 on a $14.6 million budget, and adapted from de la Patelliere and Delaporte’s hit Parisian stage comedy, the pic revolves around a family reunion that turns sour after one member announces he and his wife have chosen to name their son Adolf.

The film has sold to Germany, Benelux, Switzerland, Portugal, Spain, Scandinavia, Canada, Brazil, Australia and Israel.

Muriel Sauzay, head of international sales at Pathe, says the pic’s high concept is among its selling points. “The success of the play also contributed to the appeal,” she adds.

Another buzzed out comedy with local and international potential is “Fly Me to the Moon,” directed by Pascal Chaumeil and produced by Quad Films (“The Intouchables”), the team behind 2010 romantic comedy hit “Heartbreaker.” Pic toplines Diane Kruger and Boon.

Universal Pictures will handle the French rollout, skedded for Oct. 31. Gregoire Melin’s Kinology will unveil the first footage at Cannes.

Meanwhile, Pathe released “Marsupilami,” Gaul’s next big comedy, April 4; the other Gallic laff heavyweight, “Asterix,” will be released, in 2D and 3D, by Wild Bunch on Oct. 17.

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