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Miramax readies ‘Amelie’ Oscar push

Helmer Jeunet, star Tautou wary of PR game

PARIS — Miramax Films is preparing to throw its full weight behind a mighty Oscar campaign for the Gallic smash “Amelie From Montmartre” – and director Jean-Pierre Jeunet and star Audrey Tautou must be quaking in their boots.

Jeunet and Tautou are already quailing before the relatively mild publicity demands of the pic’s international rollout, and Harvey Weinstein has not even gotten going yet.

Indeed, the interaction between Hollywood’s most ebulliant showman and France’s shyest actress could prove to be the most fascinating behind-the-scenes dramas of the upcoming Oscar season. The irresistable force is about to meet the immovable object.

“The French are viewing the growing pace of Miramax’s demands with some trepidation,” said one insider.

Miramax is gearing up the hoopla for a Nov. 2 release. It sees the movie not just as a contender for best foreign film, but also as a possible best picture nominee. But that will take some serious razzamatazz.

All is set for a clash of cultures between the purist Gallic view that the art is all, the film should speak for itself and the view of, well, everyone else that nothing sells tickets faster than a pretty face.

The gamine Tautou certainly is that. But after months of seeing her image plastered over every billboard and magazine in her native France, while “Amelie” racked up a stunning $42 million at the box office, she’s had enough of being public property.

As a confidante of Tautou put it: “She is interested in making films, not in after-sales service.”

Persuading Tautou to meet the international press has, say insiders, been like pulling teeth. She has refused requests to pose for magazine cover shoots, insisting that stills from the movie should suffice. Cover stories have been lost as a result.

When British journos came to interview her in Paris, Tautou was shocked and baffled to be asked questions about her private life.

“Audrey has worked tremendously hard at promoting ‘Amelie’,” said UGC Intl. marketing head Henri Ernst. “But she wants the film to be center stage, not herself.”

“Audrey’s an unusual fish, a woman who is not interested in being a star,” said one PR maven. “She feels that the vast coverage the film has had in France has cramped her style. She’s not viewing it as a stepping stone, she’s viewing it as a pain in the ass.”

Jeunet is, at least, allowing himself to be dragged – “kicking and screaming” according to one witness – around the global fest circuit in support of his movie.

UGC is certainly trying its hardest to deliver the expectations of foreign distribs, who paid big bucks for “Amelie.”

When buyers screened the pic this spring, they immediately identified the delicious Parisian romance as having all the right ingredients to become a worldwide break-out, France’s version of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” or “Life Is Beautiful.”

For UGC, and indeed for the French film industry as a whole, this is a step into uncharted territory.

Henri Ernst, UGC’s marketing head, told Daily Variety: “We’ve never handled anything this big before. We’ve been busy, busy, busy.”

French film folk readily admit that marketing is not a Gallic forte. Indeed, they often blame their lack of promotional savvy for allowing good French movies to be beaten at the local box office by what they regard as inferior Hollywood fare. In truth, though, this masks a snobbery that hoopla is the mark of a vulgar culture.

Nonetheless, foreign distribs such as Momentum in the U.K. and Prokino in Germany are full of praise for UGC’s efforts.

Prokino president Stephan Hutter, who released “Amelie” on an aggressive 166 prints Aug. 16, commented: “It’s the best marketing campaign to ever come out of France. It’s exceptional. All the basic ingredients, the posters, the clips and the trailers, are spot on.”

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