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Pathe leads strong locals despite an autumn fall

PARIS — Gallic distribbers are keeping a watchful eye on the box office, which was booming until a sudden slowdown in September.

After dipping in 2003, admissions were up 18.6% in the first three quarters of 2004. U.S. fare claimed a 49.5% market share compared with 34.5% for local films.

It has been a good year for Pathe, whose low-budget “Les Choristes,” France’s foreign-language Oscar contender, has been the French box office’s biggest hit this year, grabbing more than 8 million admissions.

But while he is quietly optimistic about the Gallic market, Pathe distribution chief Jean-Claude Borde isn’t counting his chickens just yet.

“At the end of August I’d have said we were headed for 200 million admissions, after the dip in September I’m no longer so sure.”

Because of the large number of releases each year — around 550 — theatrical distribution in France remains a make-or-break business.

Gallic terrestrial broadcasters seem less and less enthusiastic about movies, complaining they don’t grab big enough audiences. And, in a new wrinkle that has independent distribs worried, paybox Canal Plus has started airing some pics that weren’t picked up for theatrical distribution in France. “Each time it means one TV sale fewer for a French distributor,” complains one exec.

But clearly all is not gloom. The launches of companies suggest that there’s still money to be made in Gallic distribution. Earlier this year, Paris-based media dealmaker and film producer Tarak ben Ammar launched Quinta Distribution amid much brouhaha with the release of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” International sales company Wild Bunch took a majority stake in distribber Pan Europeene.

France at a glance

B.O.: 143 million admissions*
Top title: “Les Choristes” (Pathe, 8.1 million admissions*)
Recent pickups:
“The Libertine” (Metropolitan)
“My Summer of Love” (TFM)
“Nobody Knows” (ARP)
“Shall We Dance” (SND)
“Turtles Can Fly” (Bac)

Titles at AFM
Sprung — The Magic Roundabout: Action-packed 3-D bigscreen reworking of the ’60s TV series starring Dougal the dog, with voices including Jim Broadbent, Joanna Lumley, Kylie Minogue, Bill Nighy and Robbie Williams. A work-in-progress shows at AFM. Miramax has U.S. rights. (Gaumont)
Russian Dolls: Sequel to helmer Cedric Klapisch’s Gallic hit comedy “Europudding,” about students sharing an apartment in Barcelona, catches up with the characters five years later. Cast includes Audrey Tautou. Promo reel shows at AFM. (Studio Canal)
36: Gerard Depardieu and Daniel Auteuil battle for the position of Paris police chief. Pic, helmed by ex-cop-turned-filmmaker Olivier Marchal, gets its market preem at AFM and opens in France later this month. (Pathe)

* through September 2004

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