Buyers still searching for next 'Intouchables'

PARIS — Running Jan. 15-21 at Paris’ Grand Hotel, the 15th Unifrance Paris Rendez-vous, a French film showcase, looks set to be a record edition in more ways than one.

Some 517 international distribution execs, an unprecedented number, will attend; 101 films, including about 55 market premieres — both records — will screen.

In hallowed tradition, a Unifrance RDV presser — skedded for Friday — will unveil Gallic films’ B.O. outside France. This will be the best ever, heading toward $1 billion, thanks to “Taken 2,” “The Intouchables” and “The Artist.”

Also, the Rendez-Vous will unspool as Gaul’s film industry faces, by modern standards, a record number of challenges.

One is if the 15th RDV, or indeed France at large this year, will throw-up another “The Intouchables,” or any French-language movie getting close in B.O. to its $265 million outside France through November.

Some 35 Gallic sales agents will be talking up dozens of comedy candidates for at least some kind of breakout, including, among sneak-peek world preems from higher-profile helmers, Agnes Jaoui’s “Under the Rainbow” and Philippe Le Guay’s “Cycling with Moliere.”

Bowing March 6 via Memento, Paris-set ensemble dramedy “Rainbow” delivers an ironic take on modern-day self-delusion.

Re-teaming Le Guay with Fabrice Luchini, who plays a recluse actor courted for comeback in Moliere’s “The Misanthrope,” and co-starring Lambert Wilson, the Pathe-sold “Cycling” follows up Le Guay’s feel-good “Service Entrance,” which sold multiple major territories.

In other comedy offerings, Gaumont will market preem the Alain Goldman-produced “The Brats,” a father/son-in-law bromance with Alain Chabat. Studiocanal presents homely retro family comedy “Billy and Buddy,” helmed by the “Welcome to the Sticks” co-scribes.

Wild Bunch will make a major push on “Wrestling Queens,” produced by “The Artist’s” Thomas Langmann, about a supermarket checkout mom-turned-tag team wrestler; Elle Driver is shopping “Max,” with Joey Star (“Poliss”) as a struggling single father; EuropaCorp bows “It Boy,” about a femme editor‘s affair with a much younger man; and SND is looking for international pals for buddy tale “True Friends.”

Le Pacte screens a promo of retirement comedy “Bright Days Ahead,” with Fanny Ardant, on which it has French and international rights.

As already announced, the Unifrance RDV opens Tuesday with Danielle Thompson’s “It Happened in St. Tropez,” starring Monica Bellucci and France’s Kad Merad, another tony exploration of upper-class mores from the director of “Change of Plans,” a 2009 RDV sales hit.

For the second-year running, Unifrance will host an arthouse and multiplex exhibitors’ panel on the challenges of luring and retaining new foreign-language film audiences, said Regine Hatchondo, Unifrance managing director.

“The Artist’s” Oscar-winning director Michel Hazanavicius, and “Intouchables” helmers Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano will attend Friday’s Unifrance press conference on French movies’ box office abroad.

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