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Chargeurs engages in risque pic business

Is France’s textiles and communications group Chargeurs on a single-handed crusade to break every taboo in the Hollywood book?

Having brought several pounds of uncovered flesh and several tons of unfavorable reviews to the screen with Paul Verhoeven’s $40 million “Showgirls,” Chargeurs is now fantasizing about the commercial possibilities of underage sex with Adrian Lyne’s “Lolita.”

Both pics have been funded by the Paris-based giant, which has somewhat cushioned itself throughout pre-sales in various territories; both are housed at cash-strapped Carolco; and both come out of left field – so much so that Hollywood sages say they wouldn’t touch them.

The risque double act is about as far away as is conceivable from the suit-and-tie image of a textile operation such as Chargeurs.

‘Girls’ Disappointment

The company is tightlipped about almost all its ventures, but sources say that several key players connected to “Showgirls” are deeply disappointed with the stateside reaction.

Among them is Paul Rassam, head of rights company Pricel (in which Chargeurs has a stake) and the man who brought the group into both projects. Sources say that both Rassam and Carolco boss Mario Kassar were convinced that “Showgirls” would leave them laughing all the way to the bank. Instead, Rassam is wearing a more than usually pained expression, which is not entirely due to his bad back.

While Rassam, Kassar & Co. may be finding the “Showgirls” reviews difficult to digest – and its $16 million gross so far in the U.S. disappointing – well-placed observers believe that Chargeurs is not particularly worried about the financial side of the deal. MGM is believed to have paid around $10 million for the pic, and Japan was reportedly sold for “top dollar.” Most of the rest of the world was also pre-sold, and video revenues are expected to be more than healthy. In short, Chargeurs is likely to make money on “Showgirls,” insiders say.

Wise heads say that the biggest risk is at MGM but that in most territories distribs will be OK. Chargeurs subsid Guild has the pic in the U.K., and although a high-profile press launch has been canned, estimates are that Guild will be safe if the film takes in $4.8 million theatrically. In fact, Guild topper Alexis Lloyd is believed to be in far more of a sweat over the prospect of recouping on the acquired “Exit to Eden.”

Another reason why “Showgirls” may have attracted Chargeurs, opine French industry insiders, is that it offered the group a chance of getting involved in a high-profile project without going through the time and expenditure of the development stages.

Just what encouraged Chargeurs to back “Lolita,” which had been in Carolco’s cupboards for some four years, is not clear.

While some French professionals feel that Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 cult hit is a natural for updating, one non-French exec questioned whether the ’90s will welcome “a pedophile pic.”

One theory being talked about last week is that Chargeurs may have had no choice but to invest in “Lolita” as part of the entry fee for getting access to “Showgirls.”

Chargeurs’ investment strategy has been the subject of much speculation among film execs, but those who have worked closely with the group’s chairman, Jerome Seydoux, say it is built upon his liberal attitude and a willingness to finance projects if he is confronted by a director who is deeply committed to lensing the film.

While Seydoux places huge trust in Rassam, sources say that the multimillionaire modern art collector has the final word on investment decisions. Indeed, it appears to have been Seydoux who said “non” to a Danny Boyle-helmed incest project “War Zone,” which was being shopped by the company’s U.K. production chief, Timothy Burrill.

But Chargeurs’ defenders point out that the Chargeurs-backed slate of producer Jake Eberts is unashamedly highbrow and politically correct, with its recurrent Native American and ecological themes.

Among those projects is “Grey Owl, ” to be directed next year by Richard Attenborough. Based on the story of the man who saved the North American beaver, the pic prompted one wag to comment on Chargeurs, “It looks like the group is moving from beaver shots to beaver movies.”

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