UniFrance Rendez-vous Unveils 52 Premieres

Comedies, star vehicles, name director movies all make the mix

PARIS – Bowing Jan.10 at the august Hotel Intercontinental Le Grand, abutting the Place de l’Opera, the 16th UniFrance Rendez-vous with French Cinema in Paris will be one of the biggest market-junkets ever for a national cinema.

Only France, which with the U.K. hosts one of Europe’s two biggest industries, could organize an event of this magnitude or allure.

110 French movies will screen, a Rendez-vous record, at three Gaumont cinema-theaters just across the Square. Half at least are market premieres.

Distributors will attend from 56 countries, principally from Europe, but also for the first time officially from Latin America and China as well. U.S. distributors are not officially invited – UniFrance organizes a Rendez-vous in New York at the beginning of March. Such is the importance of the Paris Rendez-vous, however, that some – The Weinstein Company, Cohen Media, Universal – are expected to send acquisition execs.

In hallowed tradition, UniFrance uses its Rendez-vous to announce and analyze in admirable detail the previous year theatrical box office numbers for French films abroad. 2013’s total trawl looks set to be way down on 2012, an all-time high when three juggernauts –  “Taken 2” (Euros 265.8 million: $354.8 million), “The Intouchables” ($268.9 million) and “The Artist” ($101.0 million) rewrote France’s export record books, driving total overseas B.O. to $1.2 billion and 140 million tix sold in 2012.

Such B.O. behemoths align once in a blue moon. Tracking at about 43 million-44 million tix sold outside France, though complete figures are not yet in, 2013 foreign box office looks very likely to fall far short of its 69.3 million average annual admissions abroad since early last decade. Just why – whether French cinema is in crisis, could recover in 2014 – will inevitably be talking points of the Rendez-vous.

Explanations for 2013’s overseas nosedive cut several ways. UniFrance itself points to last year’s lack of English-language Gallic minority co-productions which usually goose overall stats: Neither Louis Leterrier’s runaway Lionsgate-Summit hit “Now You See Me,” ($323.0 million outside France), co-produced by Gaul’s Soixante Quinze, which handled Paris units, nor James DeMonaco’s spirited breakout “The Purge” ($86.4 million abroad), qualified as French movies, UniFrance observes. Whether they deserved to is another matter.

The big question, however, is whether there are also long-term structural factors at work also driving a drop in export results, such as now bitter competition for top talent on English-language movies, Europe’s ailing home market or, going foward, France’s new-found caution – or so it seems – about producing high-budget crowd-pleasers that punch large box office at the cost of nil profits.

With U.S. and Asian buyers low – though not totally absent – on the Rendez-vous ground, sales agents will hold back some of their biggest early-year plays till Berlin.

That said, France’s 35 sales companies all attend and support the Rendez-vous.

“The Paris Rendez- vous is one of [legendary former UniFrance president] Daniel Toscan du Plantier’s best legacies to our business. It has become an institution. Now buyers from around the world come to prepare Berlin by screening a lot of French fare at the start of the market/festival year,” said Films Distribution’s Nicolas Brigaud-Robert.

The RDV allows a high-profile bow for titles that could get lost in a major festival crush, he added.

Over the years – think 2008’s ”Welcome To the Sticks,” 2010’s “Heartbreaker,” 2013’s “Paulette” and “It Boy” – it has been comedies which have provided the Rendez-vous many of its biggest breakouts. 24 at least, though no laffer juggernaut in the “Asterix” nor “Marsupilami” vein – market preem this year, among them “9 Months Stretch,” “I Did It Again,” “Honey Trap” and the just Universal-acquired “Best in Bed,” all femme-skewed romcoms boasting popular French actress marquee draws and targeting under-served demos in France – a building production trend.

With Sandrine Kimberlain (“The Women on the 6th Floor”), Albert Dupontel’s Elle Driver-sold knocked-up farce, “9 Month Stretch,” hit a home-run €12.4 million ($17.1 million) in France this year.

EuropaCorp’s “I Did It Again” stars Alexandra Lamy as a relationship dufus; sold by Rezo, “Bed,” novelist Delphine de Vigan’s directorial deb, toplines stand-up woman comic Laurence Arne and “Gainsbourg” lead Eric Elmosino in a romantic sex comedy on which Universal has taken North and Latin America and France. Also Rezo-repped, Catherine Castel’s “Honey Trap” stars Audrey Fleurot (“Spiral,”) as a femme-fatale for hire.

Nicholas Cuche, whose “La chance de ma vie” was a 2011 RDV sales hit, returns to this year’s edition with another romcom: Studiocanal’s “Anything For Alice,” in which a high-net-worth geek pursues an old flame.

Wild Bunch is selling both warring neighbors black comedy “I’ll Bury You,” produced by Alain Attal (“Blood Ties”) and helmed by Sylvestre Sbille, and Raphael Frydman’s “WTF,” a fictional narrative inspired by real-life Internet prankster-superstar Remi Gaillard.

Pascal Bourdiaux’s SND-repped “The Date Coach” is a bungling seduction laffer; “The Crocodiles of Botswanga,” from Films Distribution, an African dictatorship black farce helmed by Fabrice Eboue and Lionel Steketee (“Case depart) with Eboue a co-lead.

Among further RDV comedy premieres: Other Angle’s child-care gig from hell tale “Babysitting” starring Gerard Jugnot (“The Chorus”) and Clotilde Courau (“La Vie en rose”); Francois Desagnat’s school chum reunion laffer “Truth or Dare,” another title in EuropaCorp’s consolidating comedy production line; Thomas Lilti’s “Hippocrates,” a young medic student coming-of-age tale, brought onto the market by Le Pacte; TF1 Intl’s dysfunctional family Yuletide comedy “Merry Christmess,” from Olivier Doran (“Le Coach”); and Gaumont’s “Quarter-Life Crisis,” from Benjamin Guedj.

In numbers, comedies rule this year’s Rendez-vous. Its highest profile titles lie elsewhere, however, as in Marc Fitossi’s Isabelle Huppert starrer “Paris Follies,” a later-life romantic drama from SND, Wild Bunch-sold noirish cop actioner “Colt 45,” from Fabrice du Welz (“Vinyan,” “Calvaire”) and “The Artist” producer La Petite Reine; and Elle Driver’s “The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles,” adapting Katherine Pancol’s runaway French bestseller.

2014’s RDV has more than its normal share of star vehicles: Heist caper “The Last Diamond,” with Berenice Bejo (“The Artist”), helmed by Eric Barbier (“The Snake”) and handled by Other Angle; Catherine Deneuve cross-generation friendship dramedy “In the Courtyard,” from Pierre Salvadori (“Beautiful Lies”), sold by Wild Bunch and tipped as a possible sleeper by Vincent Maraval; and two movies with “Nymphomaniac’s” Charlotte Gainsbourg; Other Angle’s “His Wife,” a reincarnation thriller also with Yvan Attal (“Rush Hour 3”); plus “Jacky in the Kingdom of Women,” a femme-ruled dystopia satire from Riad Sattouf (“The French Kissers”), repped by Pathe International.

There are noteworthy follow-ups – post romantic rupture drama “Gazelles,” from Mona Achache (“Hedgehog”), yet another Other Angle title; “LOL” helmer Lisa Azuelos’ love story “Quantum Love” with Sophie Marceau (“The World Is Not Enough”) and Francois Cluzet (“The Intouchables”) – one prized debut – Helier Cisterne’s teen tagger drama “Vandal,” a Louis Delluc first film winner – and one swan-song, from SND: “Aunt Hilda!” produced by Folimage, Oscar-nommed for “A Cat in Paris,” which helmer Jacques-Remy Girerd, director of “Mia and the Migoo” – a best animated film winner at the 2009 European Film Awards – has declared to be his last directorial outing.

Staged strategically a month before early Feb’s Berlin Festival, the Rendez-Vous allows buyers to pre-screen Berlin titles. By early January, four RDV screeners had been selected for Berlin: “Hilda!” and “Wolfy, The Incredible Secret,” an daintily hand-drawn animated feature and wolf-rabbit bonding tale from “Zarafa” producers Prima Linea which, like Hilda!, plays Berlin’s Generation K; Sophie Fillieres’ Panorama player, the love-on-the-rocks drama “If You Don’t, I Will,” from Les Films du Losange, re-pairing frequent screen couple Emmanuelle Devos (“In the Beginning”) and Mathieu Almaric (“Quantum of Solace”); and Jalil Lespert’s “Yves Saint Laurent,” which opens Berlin’s Panorama Specials strand and opened to buoyant first-day B.O. Jan. 8 in France. SND has near sold the movie worldwide.

Of name directors in Paris, Lucas Belvaux (“38 Witnesses,” “Rapt”) has across-the-tracks romance “Not My Type,” Paolo Virzi Italian family dynasty drama “Human Capital,” and Benoit Mariage (“Cow-Boy,” “The Convoys Are Waiting”) “Scouting for Zebras,” with Benoit Poelvoorde as a scout who lures a young soccer star back to Belgium.

Pyramide Intl. presents Xavi Molla’s half-brother dramedy “The Conquerors,” with Mathieu Demy (“Americano”) and Denis Podalydes (“The Conquest”). Alfama has “Obsessive Rhythms,” helmed by Fanny Ardant.

Whatever its box office numbers for 2013, French movies still rep one of the national cinemas which distributors of non popcorn fare must check out.

Running Jan.10-20, the Rendez-vous allows sales agents to screen films to selected potential buyers with less frontal competition from other countries and in a more protected environment than at the big festivals,” said Brigaud-Robert.

He added: “And for buyers it’s a very cost-effective way to see a lot of movies in a short time-frame at a time when time spent is more and more valuable and people try to select carefully their trips but have to see as many movies as they can given the market is volatile and people have no guarantees about what will work.”

2014 UNIFRANCE RENDEZVOUS WITH FRENCH CINEMA IN PARIS, JAN.10-20,2014

SELECT KEY EVENTS

FRIDAY, JAN. 10, 2014

7 pm: A sneak peek premiere EuropaCorp’s “Jack and the Cuckoo-clock Heart”opens the 16th UniFrance Paris Rendez-vous.

8:30 pm: Rendez-vous opening cocktail, Grand Hotel.

MONDAY, JAN 13, 2014

10 am: VOD in the World round table with Pierre Lescure, Hulu’s Justin Barda, Jerome Chng from Under the Milky Way, Alexandra Lebret at the European Producers Club, Filmin’s Jaume Ripoll and Megago’s Nadia Zaionchkovska.

FRIDAY, JAN. 17, 2014

7 pm: UniFrance press conference, with presentation of 2013 French films’ overseas box office and launch of the 4th myFrenchFilmFestival.com with Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

8:30 pm: Alex Beaupain concert and cocktail

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