Luce, Key on Cannes-fare spree

ROME — Riding high on the domestic success of local production “Bread and Tulips,” Italian state film distributor Istituto Luce has secured rights to a number of prize-winners at Cannes, with upstart Key Films looking set to clean up the rest.

With even the most commercially difficult of the honorees being acquired for release, the deals illustrate that while national distributors bemoan the country’s depressed theatrical climate, Italy remains among the world’s most receptive territories for arthouse fare.

Luce acquired Italian distribution rights to Lars von Trier’s “Dancer in the Dark” in a prebuy from Trust Film Sales roughly a year ago. The musical melodrama was awarded the Palme d’Or at Cannes along with best actress for Icelandic pop pixie Bjork. Luce is planning a late-October release.

Deals were closed by Luce in Cannes with Capitol Films for critically lauded, three-hour Taiwanese feature “A One and a Two,” which earned Edward Yang the Best Director prize; and with Lions Gate Intl. for Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez’s “Love’s a Bitch,” the breakout hit and top prize winner in the Critics Week.

Luce has been stepping up acquisitions activity to supplement its roster of state-funded Italian productions. The distrib scored the sleeper hit of this season with “Tulips,” which has built steadily to a current cume of $4.2 million following multiple wins at the national film awards in April and its international premiere in the Directors Fortnight at Cannes.

“Some people say that small distributors like us are unable to position their films in a sufficient number of theaters,” says Luce acquisitions exec Elisa Resegotti. “But with ‘Bread and Tulips,’ Luce has demonstrated that if the film is strong enough, we can go from 20 screens to 200.”

Key Films topper Kermit Smith is negotiating with Fortissimo Film Sales for rights to Cannes Grand Jury Prize winner “Devils on the Doorstep,” by Chinese actor-director Jiang Wen. The acquisition represents a risky commercial venture, given that the film runs 162 minutes, is shot in black and white and mixes Mandarin and Japanese dialogue, making it difficult to dub.

Key also acquired the Cannes competition’s other sepia-toned Asian epic, Japanese helmer Shinji Aoyama’s 218-minute drama, “Eureka,” which won the Fipresci international critics award. Rights were sold by Canal Plus specialist division Wild Bunch. Smith is planning an event premiere for the film followed by exclusive dates in the 2000-2001 season.

Also picked up by Key was joint Jury Prize winner “Songs From the Second Floor,” by Swedish director Roy Andersson from exec producer Philippe Bober of the Co-Production Office; French director Dominik Moll’s well-received competition title “Harry, He’s Here to Help” from Mercure Distribution; and hot Australian market title “Better Than Sex,” from President Films.

Italian rights to the remaining Cannes prize-winner went to Lucky Red. This was Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai’s romantic melodrama “In the Mood For Love,” which earned the Best Actor nod for Tony Leung Chiu-wai as well as the fest’s technical award. Lucky Red previously released Wong’s “Happy Together.”

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