Par Classics locks up ‘Les Ames’

Pic adapted from Giono novel

Paramount Classics has nabbed domestic distribution rights, as well as rights in the U.K., Australia, New Zealand and Latin America, to the Cannes festival’s closing-night film “Les Ames Fortes” (Savage Souls), a French-language drama set in 19th-century Provence.

Pic, helmed by Raul Ruiz, is adapted from the novel of the same name by Jean Giono. Paramount Classics plans an early-2002 release.

Film stars John Malkovich, Laetitia Casta, Frederic Diefenthal, Arielle Dombasle, Christian Vadim, Charles Berling, Johan Leysen and Carlos Lopez.

Alain Majani d’Inguimbert, Dimitri deClercq and Marc de Lassus Saint-Genies produced the film, which was adapted from the novel by Alexandre Astruc, Mitchell Hooper, d’Inguimbert and Eric Neuhoff.

“Savage Souls” tells the story of Therese, a passionate serving girl who rises to respectability under the patronage of a wealthy local couple. When they are destroyed as a consequence of their generosity, Therese resolves never again to rely upon mercy. Using her fierce beauty, she becomes a woman who will stop at nothing to determine her own destiny.

“We are delighted to be working with such a gifted filmmaker and remarkable group of actors,” said Paramount Classics co-prexy Ruth Vitale. “Suspenseful and profound, the film is magnificently told.”

Added co-prexy David Dinnerstein: “In our business, every acquisition has to be special. We are proud to be working with Ruiz, a filmmaker of incredible vision and keen artistic sensibility.”

Ruiz said of Paramount Classics: “Their commitment to independent and French film has been well recognized in the community, and I am glad to have my film in such good hands.”

Ruiz has made more than 38 films in Portuguese, Italian and French. Born in Chile, the filmmaker established himself as a leading playwright. He also became an important figure in the Chilean film industry. Exiled from Chile in the ’70s, Ruiz moved to France, where he has continued to work. He became more widely and formally recognized with his last films — “Trois Vies et Une Seule Morte,” starring Marcello Mastroianni and “Genealogies d’un Crime,” starring Catherine Deneuve.

Ruiz’s “Time Regained,” based on Marcel Proust’s work, played in Cannes in 1999.

Hugo Bergson-Vuillaume and Jacques-Eric Strauss, prexy and founder of President Films respectively, brokered the deal with Paramount Classics, which recently released Kenneth Lonergan’s Academy Award-nominated pic “You Can Count on Me.” This year, Paramount Classics will release “Sidewalks of New York,” starring Edward Burns, Heather Graham and Stanley Tucci and directed by Burns.