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Focus snags Palme winner

'Pianist' pocketed, SPC picks up 'Man Without a Past'

NEW YORK — The filmmakers picked up their prizes Sunday night in Cannes and now the U.S. specialty distribs are picking up the prize-winners.

In its first acquisition since a mid-May launch, Vivendi Universal’s specialty label Focus has acquired U.S. and select international distribution rights to director Roman Polanski’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner “The Pianist.”

Sony Pictures Classics has picked up North American rights to Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki’s “A Man Without A Past,” which won the Grand Jury Prize and the fest’s best actress kudos for Kati Outinen.

Focus, recently formed through the merger of Good Machine, Good Machine Intl. and USA Films, will release the pic in December. “The Pianist” deal was announced by Focus co-presidents David Linde and James Schamus, who had run Good Machine with Ted Hope.

English-lingo “The Pianist” is a StudioCanal production, produced by Polanski along with Robert Benmussa and Alain Sarde. Gene Gutowski served as co-producer. Pic stars Adrien Brody along with Thomas Kretschmann, Frank Finlay, Emilia Fox and newcomer Jessica Kate Meyer.

“Roman Polanski is one of the world’s true visionary filmmakers,” said Linde. ” ‘The Pianist’ is a crowning achievement in his career; it powerfully and beautifully conveys his most personal statement, the one he has waited those four decades to be able to make.”

Schamus added: ” ‘The Pianist’ perfectly embodies the belief that inspired it — that the triumph of the human spirit is wedded to the transforming power of art. We are thrilled to help bring Polanski’s vision to the world.”

Focus will distribute the film in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Pact also was negotiated by Focus exec veep of business affairs Avy Eschenasy, Stephane Sperry, Benmussa and StudioCanal’s Richard Lenormand. ICM repped Polanski.

“Cuckoo” to Sony

In addition to grand jury prize winner “A Man Without a Past,” Sony also nabbed North American rights to Russian helmer Alexander Rogozhkin’s “Cuckoo,” which screened only once during Cannes.

Bavaria Film Intl. is handling international sales for “A Man Without a Past,” except in Scandinavia, where Kaurismaki’s Finnish shingle Sputnik Oy holds the rights and will sell the film. Pic, shot in Helsinki, was produced by Sputnik Oy along with France’s Flach Pyramide and Germany’s Pandora. Michael Weber and Steve Saltzman negotiated the pact with SPC on behalf of Bavaria Film Intl.

SPC co-toppers Michael Barker and Tom Bernard nabbed the pic at Cannes, along with senior VP of acquisitions and productions Dylan Leiner.

“A Man Without a Past” centers on a man who travels to Helsinki in search of work. The man gets mugged, loses his memory and has to start his life from scratch. On his new journey, he learns a thing or two about human values, thanks to a Salvation Army volunteer (played by Outinen), who falls in love with him.

Kaurismaki is best known for such pics as “Bohemian Life” and “Lenningrad Cowboys Go America.”

“Cuckoo,” which will screen in June at the Moscow Film Festival, is a portrait of an usual friendship between a Finnish and Russian soldier who meet during the waning days of World War II.

SPC has been an active player at this year’s Cannes. Company nabbed worldwide rights to Hector Babenco’s new pic “Carandiru,” U.S. rights to Alliance Altantis’ “Owning Mahowny” and North American rights and rights in a number of international territories to French doc “Winged Migration.” Shingle also linked with TFI and Svensk Filmindustri to handle worldwide distribution of “Beautiful Country,” to star Nick Nolte and Harvey Keitel.