Poetic Pic Raises Flap In France

French TV and film producer Jean-Pierre Ramsay is thumbing his nose at those in France who believe that defending their cultural heritage requires lensing in French.

Ramsay and Franco-Polish director Agnieszka Holland are close to finishing the shoot of “Total Eclipse,” the $13 million story of Gallic poet Arthur Rimbaud and his stormy homosexual relationship with fellow scribe Paul Verlaine.

In culturally correct France, the fact that “Total Eclipse” is written by British scripter Christopher Hampton, is in English and stars American Leonardo Di Caprio (Rimbaud) and British thesp David Thewlis (Verlaine) is being seen by some as tantamount to treason.

“I’ve had people getting quite angry with me because we are making a film about a French poet in English,” admits Ramsay. “They seem to forget that the works of Alexandre Dumas, Marcel Pagnol or Albert Camus have all been shot in English and nobody complained.”

In fact, because lingo restrictions rule out a co-production with a French terrestrial channel and close the door to some public funds, most producers were betting against Ramsay raising the cash for the pic. With New Line putting up a minimum guarantee of around $1.2 million for U.S. rights and London-based Capitol selling the rest of the world, Ramsay’s FIT Prods, is not far off covering production costs.

At the AFM, buyers saw a six-minute promo reel which quickly dispelled any idea that Holland is lensing a slow-moving poetry pic. In fact New Line will probably have to call for the cutting scissors if the film wants a U.S. rating.

Full frontal shots of Rimbaud washing himself, steamy scenes between Verlaine and his young wife (Gallic rising star Romane Bohringer) and some fairly explicit, if artfully shot, lovemaking between Rimbaud and Verlaine, may prove a little rich for the U.S. ratings powers.

Ramsay and Capitol will be pushing the pic heavily at Cannes this year, with the final version expected to be ready by August. “When I started this project, few people thought I could finance it. Now my colleagues in France are watching to see if this kind of film will work in English,” says Ramsay.

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