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Quebec pix wow locals

French fare saves B.O. from continent's drift

MONTREAL — Quebec is the only place in North America where folks in the film biz are not suffering from a bad case of the slumping box office blues this summer, and it’s partly thanks to a film titled “C.R.A.Z.Y.”

The French-language pic is the top-grossing Quebecois film so far this year, with ticket sales of C$3.6 million ($3 million) after seven weeks in cinemas in the province. Many Canuck critics are hailing writer-director Jean-Marc Vallee’s film — which tells the story of a troubled guy growing up in suburban Montreal in the ’60s and ’70s — as one of the best Quebec films to come along in years.

“C.R.A.Z.Y.” is not the only recent home-grown hit. Lightweight reality-TV spoof “Shooting Star,” period piece “The Outlander” and romantic comedy “Maman Last Call” have all clicked with local auds in the largely French-speaking province in Eastern Canada, and ticket sales for local Quebec pics have accounted for some 13% of all box office action in Quebec so far in 2005. This year is shaping up as the third straight in which local pics have snared this slice of the marketplace. In comparison, Canadian films in the rest of the country at best grab 2% of all ticket sales.

Thanks to the success of local pics, Quebec’s box office has not been hit with the kind of dropoff experienced in the movie biz elsewhere on the continent. Ticket sales are down by around 7% in North America compared to last year. In Quebec, the drop is more like 4%, with Quebecois pics entirely to thank for easing the slump.

“The American films are not working that well in Quebec, just like in the rest of North America,” says Matthieu Streliski of Montreal box office tracking firm Cineac. “But we have Quebec films,; and that’s what’s made the real difference. We didn’t have the run of losing weekends like they had in the rest of North America.”

The contrast between Quebec and the rest of the continent was underlined further the weekend of July 8, when Hollywood finally pulled out of its weekend losing streak with the robust opening of “Fantastic Four.” In la belle province, as its known, the Marvel superhero pic — called “Les Quatres Fantastiques” in its French version — was soundly trounced by the opening weekend of a local French-language Quebec pic inspired by a sensational real-life case of child abuse.

“Aurore” rang up $792,000 compared to $638,000 for “Fantastic Four” in Quebec. “Aurore” drew the biggest summer bow ever for a Quebecois film and the third biggest opening weekend in the history of Quebecois cinema. This for a harrowing look at the true story of an 11-year-old girl abused and eventually killed by her stepmother in rural Quebec circa 1920.

Hollywood execs scanning the Canadian box office results for the July 8 weekend must be asking “What the heck is ‘Aurore’?,” said Patrick Roy, senior vice president at Alliance Atlantis Vivafilm, the film’s distributor.

“If you pitched ‘Aurore’ in Hollywood, they’d say, ‘Forget it,’ ” said Roy. “But maybe they should think about this success story. We’re forced to be creative because of our lack of resources. In Hollywood, it’s become mechanical. Everything is based on tracking. Here we work with intuition.”

Quebec pics are working because producers like Denise Robert and Roger Frappier and distribs like Alliance and Christal are in touch with the audience here. While they mount massive marketing campaigns — images of “Aurore” were plastered across the province — the films themselves remain eclectic, everything from a gender-bending rock ‘n’ roll coming-of-age tale (“C.R.A.Z.Y.”) to a comedy about a newspaper columnist having a Bridget Jones-like freakout over her pregnancy (“Maman Last Call”).

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