Love at First Fight Les Combattants

PARIS– Thomas Cailley’s debut “Les Combattants” (“Love at First Fight”), a Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight hit that scooped a record four awards, is proving to be an international sales success for Paris-based Bac Films.

Bac Films’ sales team, spearheaded by Gilles Sousa, has closed Canada (K Films), Australia/New Zealand (Curious), Brazil (Imovision), Spain (Surtsey Films), Norway (Fidalgo), South East Asia (Astro), Denmark (Angel Films), Switzerland (Film Copy), Estonia (Estin Film), Greece (Feelgood), Portugal (Film4you) and Benelux (O’Brother). As previously announced, the pic also sold to Artificial Eye for U.K. distribution.

Sousa said Bac will present the film to Asian buyers at Unifrance’s French film festival and market in Tokyo, which runs June 25-28.

A character-driven romantic comedy that delivers a fresh take on the genre, Cailley’s film stars Kevin Azais (“Playing Dead”) as Arnaud, a mild-mannered young man who falls in love with Madeleine (Adele Haenel), a headstrong tomboy who’s obsessed with becoming a paratrooper. Poised to take over the family’s carpentry business with his older brother, Arnaud decides to quit and follow Madeleine for a. two-week army boot camp.

“Fight” won Directors’ Fortnight’s Art Cinema Award, the Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers’ SACD Prize, as well as the Europa Cinemas Label. It also snagged the FIPRESCI nod for best film in a Cannes parallel section.

“It’s nearly exceptional to stir so much enthusiasm from buyers, critics and festivalgoers of all ages with a French-language directorial debut, especially in today’s ultra-competitive market,” said Sousa, who added that Bac has received offers from U.S. distributors and is in negotiations to close Italy and a bunch of other territories. The movie is expected to play at several fall film festivals.

The sales exec also pointed out that “Fight” has sparked interest in the possibility of remakes.

Haenel, an up-and-coming actress who starred in Celine Sciamma’s “Water Lilies” and Katel Guillevere’s “Suzanne” (which earned her a Cesar award), delivered another breakthrough performance in “Fight.”

Under Edouard Waintrop’s helm, Directors’ Fortnight has turned into a launchpad for arthouse comedies. Some industry insiders predict the film could follow the laureled path of last year’s big winner, Guillaume Gallienne’s “Me, Myself and Mum,” which won the Cannes sidebar’s top prize and went on to snatch up five Cesar awards and over $19 million at the French B.O.

Budgeted at $2.7 million, “Fight” was produced by Pierre Guyard at Paris-based Nord-Ouest Films. It’s the first film produced by Guyard under Nord Ouest’s newly-launched division dedicated to tightly-budgeted, auteur-driven films from emerging directors.

Guyard explained he and Cailley were inspired by American comedies in the vein of “Juno” or Coen Brothers’ movies, among others, but ultimately strived to make a film that isn’t a pale copy of an American romcom.

“‘Les combattants’ illustrates the kind of films I’m interested in producing at Nord Ouest: it’s carried by a young auteur and yet, it’s crossover enough to appeal to international audiences thanks to its strong concept, characters, cinematography and upbeat original score,” Guyard told Variety.

Guyard is currently shooting Mikhael Hers’ sophomore outing, “Ce sentiment d’été” (“That Summer Feeling”), which lenses in Berlin, Paris and New York with Anders Danielsen Lie (Oslo, 31 August) and Judith Chemla (“Camille Rewinds”) in the lead roles.

Haut et Court will release “Fight” in France on August 20.

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