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CANNES — Gallic major Gaumont, the world’s oldest film company, is beefing up its international film projects with a spate of big-budget, English-lingo pics.

Following Luc Besson’s “The Fifth Element” and the French director’s $55 million “Joan of Arc,” starring Milla Jovovich, John Malkovich, Faye Dunaway and Dustin Hoffman, Gaumont president Patrice Ledoux is continuing his strategy of “backing international, English-language projects, big French films and first-time directors.”

Shooting has just begun in the U.S. on the $40 million remake of Gaumont’s smash comic hit “Les Visiteurs,” backed by the French company and Disney.

Original director Jean-Marie Poire is lensing the remake, with Jean Reno reprising his role as a time-traveling Gallic knight and Christian Clavier as his wisecracking servant.

Currently titled “The Visitors,” the remake differs from the original in that Reno and Clavier are sent from the Middle Ages to the modern-day U.S. rather than contemporary France.

Magician role grows

The role of the magician, who mistakenly starts the time-travel adventure, has been beefed up, and Brit thesp Malcolm McDowell has landed the part. Christina Applegate will play the female lead, a role handled by Valerie Lemercier in the Gallic pic.

Disney holds North and South American rights, with Gaumont selling the rest of the world.

Shooting began last month on another ambitious international project, Roland Joffe’s $35 million “Vatel,” toplining Gerard Depardieu as the master of ceremonies who must organize a three-day party to get the Conte de Conde back into Louis XIV’s good graces. Uma Thurman and Tim Roth co-star.

Pic is being produced by Alain Goldman’s Legende Films for Gaumont, with international sales launched here in Cannes. Word in Paris prior to the fest was that Goldman intends to bring the cast and Joffe to Cannes later this week to wow potential distribs.

Here they come

“We deliberately held back sales on ‘Vatel’ until Cannes, and now we are going to make our big push,” said Pierre-Ange le Pogam, president of worldwide marketing and distribution.

Le Pogam also expects to be fielding solid interest from buyers on Pip Karmel’s debut feature, “Me, Myself, I,” produced by Fabien Liron for Gaumont and starring Oscar nominee Rachel Griffiths. Pic screened in Paris just prior to Cannes, and reaction was upbeat from selected buyers.

Meanwhile, talks continue for Francis Veber to lense the remake of his 1998 box office comic smash “The Dinner Game” for DreamWorks. The original grossed more than $50 million in France and attracted the attention of DreamWorks, thanks to Steven Spielberg’s familiarity with Veber’s original legit piece on which the pic is based.

According to Ledoux, Gaumont is selling remake rights and won’t co-produce with DreamWorks. Veber is currently working on rewriting “Game.” If all goes well, pic could go into production after the summer. But if the rewrites take longer, Veber may have to hold off on the project for a while because he is committed to lensing a pic for Gaumont in 2000.

Another ambitious Gaumont project in gestation is Mathieu Kassovitz’s English-lingo debut, the sci-fier “Deja Vu,” to be produced by Christophe Rossignon. “We have seen several drafts of the script,” noted Ledoux, who added that Gaumont might back another Kassovitz pic, with Rossignon, before “Deja Vu” starts shooting.