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Europeans avoid neighbors’ film fare

Belgium, Switzerland are two countries that buck the trend

LONDON — It’s no wonder European filmmakers revel in the opportunity to bask in the acclaim they get at Cannes, Venice, Berlin and the rest of the continent’s never-ending carousel of film festivals. It makes up for the almost universal indifference with which they are treated by European cinema audiences of different nationalities.

Conversely, it’s surely no coincidence that the minuscule number of Euro directors or producers who do have a track record of regular box office success outside their home countries bother little with festivals, even when their movies clearly have the artistic quality to merit selection. Spanish helmer Pedro Almodovar insists on releasing his movies in Spain before allowing them to travel to Cannes, and German producer Bernd Eichinger prefers to avoid the fest circuit entirely. Almodovar’s “Volver” and Eichinger’s “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” are two of this year’s biggest hits across Europe.

Close study of box office takings across Europe for the past decade reveals an uncomfortable truth. All the millions of euros spent by the European Commission on schemes to improve the circulation of Euro pics outside their home countries haven’t made a blind bit of difference. European auds like Hollywood movies first, their own domestic pics second. Films from other European countries, let alone other corners of the world, don’t just come in a distant third — by and large, they aren’t even in the race.

The only exceptions tend to be small countries that share a language with a larger neighbor. Belgium consumes French movies with some appetite, and cosmopolitan Switzerland, whose citizens speak either French, German or Italian, is the country with the highest market share for non-national Euro pics. Those two countries are the only ones where the share of movies from beyond their own borders clearly exceeds the share of local pics, and it is in Switzerland that a Golden Globe foreign film winner is most likely to generate the most interest.

Only the U.K. manages to produce movies that travel consistently well throughout the continent. By and large, these tend to be movies produced in Blighty by the Hollywood studios, although the success of these blockbusters, such as the “Harry Potter” franchise, the Bond movies and the output of Working Title, does buoy the European performance of smaller British movies that might use some of the same talent.

According to the European Audiovisual Observatory, over the past five years, U.K. movies have typically earned 50%-70% of their total European takings away from home turf. For French films, it’s 20%-35%; for German, 20%-30%; for Spanish, 10%-30%; and for Italian, 10%-20%.