‘Blueberry’ helmer booked for bestseller

Gallic 'Francs' will be Kounen's first pic since flop

Jan Kounen has inked to helm “99 francs,” a much-awaited adaptation of the Gallic bestseller, produced by Alain Goldman.

High-profile project will be Kounen’s first feature film since the $44-million flop “Blueberry,” the mystical Western starring Vincent Cassel and Juliette Lewis that was snubbed by fans of the comic book it was adapted from, and auds in general.

Kounen, in Cannes for an out-of-competition screening of his $1.2 million docu “Darshan: The Embrace,” inked to helm “99 francs” with Goldman’s indie shingle Legende last week. Studio Canal is co-developing. Kounen will rework an existing script penned by Gallic scribes Nicolas and Bruno, with the aim of shooting the film early in 2006.

The dark comic book caused a sensation in Gaul with its first person diatribe against modern consumerist society, seen through the eyes of a cynical advertising exec whose efforts to get sacked from his job backfire as he keeps getting promoted.

Author Frederic Beigbeider went on to become a celebrity, with his own talkshow on TV.

Pic, budgeted at around $15 million, is one of a raft of projects being developed by Goldman, including Mathieu Kassovitz’ $75 million-$100 million English-lingo book adaptation “Babylon,” currently casting, and the $24 million “La Vie en Rose,” a biopic about Gallic chanteuse Edith Piaf, scheduled to shoot in October with Marion Cotillard in the lead.

Several helmers had been penciled in to direct “99 francs,” including Antoine de Caunes, before Goldman pacted with Kounen.

“Darshan,” about the life of Indian spiritual leader Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, better known as Amma, reps Kounen’s first officially selected film. Before making it, the spiritually inclined helmer made a E440,000 docu about Peruvian shamanism.

“It cost 1% of ‘Blueberry’s’ budget,” noted the helmer. “Not many directors have done that.”

As for the “Blueberry” debacle, Kounen said: “I share responsibility for what happened, it is a shame for the investors, but I like my film and I’m proud of it.

“I don’t think I will adapt a comic book again. Fans are dangerously obsessed that everything be exactly as it was in the book, and it’s not interesting to me as a filmmaker.”