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Buyers rendevous to pick Gallic pics

Unifrance's confab attracts int'l interest

PARIS — Hundreds of film buyers descended on the French capital over the weekend for Unifrance’s annual Rendezvous With French Cinema, which has grown into a not-to-be-missed event for Gallic sales and acquisitions.

And while most were from Europe, French-speaking Canada, North Africa and Latin America (the U.S. and Asia are not invited because film promotional body Unifrance hosts events in Japan and in the U.S.), reps from U.S. firms Miramax, Fine Line, Paramount and Focus Features turned up for a peek at the latest crop of French films.

On Monday evening distribs received more red carpet treatment at a cocktail party given by Culture Minister Jean-Jacques Aillagon.

In the event, which opened Friday and wrapped Monday, 56 films were screened, 30 of which were making their market premiere.

There were also around 20 world premieres, including “The Squatter,” a comedy distributed in Gaul by Warner Bros. France and sold internationally by Roissy Films, and the Alain Chabat-helmed comedy “RRRrrrr!!!,” handled by StudioCanal.

Other big pics — such as the recently completed “Crimson Rivers 2: Angels of the Apocalypse” and “Blueberry” — were notable by their absence, but they have sold widely already. Also missing was Eric Rohmer’s “Triple Agent,” which had been tipped as a possible gala night film for the Paris event before drawing the interest of the Berlin Film Festival, for which it is widely expected to be selected.

Buyer numbers were up to 380 from 350 at last year’s gathering.

“The Rendezvous allows buyers to get ahead on the numbers of mostly middle and smaller range French films they’ve seen before they go to international festivals and markets where films from other countries are competing for their attention,” said Unifrance’s marketing manager Patrick Lamassoure. “It is also a way of finding out early on about new French projects.”

Gallic exporters bemoaned a polarization of the international sales business.

“There are two kinds of buyers — those prepared to pay millions for the big French films and those who want small films,” said Raphael Berdugo, head of Roissy Films and recently elected prexy of the French Exporters Assn. “It’s becoming a business of extremes.”

But encouragingly, sales outfits reported full theaters for their screenings, as was the case for Saturday’s gala night world premiere of Gilles Bourdos’ arty chiller “A Sight for Sore Eyes,” being distributed internationally by Wild Bunch.

Ondrej Zach, of Czech distributor AQS, sang the Rendezvous’ praises, telling Daily Variety: “You have a chance to see films in relative peace, which most markets don’t give you.”

Films that caught distribs’ eyes included comedy “The Keys to the Car,” helmed and produced by Laurent Baffie, which was picked up by the U.K.’s Metro Tartan, among others, while tearjerker “Le Grand role,” being handled by Films Distribution, had an audience full of buyers sniffling into their hankies.

One project that excited interest was Gaumont’s Jean Reno and Olivier Martinez starrer “Empire of the Wolf,” a thriller adapted from the eponymous novel by Jean-Christophe Grange, which will be helmed by Chris Nahon.

But in general, buyers were not blown away by what this year’s Rendezvous had to offer.

“There are some interesting films and projects, but French production is not at its most brilliant right now,” said an Italian distrib. “You only have to see the number of films that weren’t strong enough to interest the international sales companies.”

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