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Biz sees mixed signals

Split decision at midpoint

As Cannes hit the midpoint, buyers have come to a split decision.

Hollywood subsids looking for commercial pics have come up empty-handed, smaller films are impressive but not likely to rake in big bucks.

“Southland Tales,” the one high-profile target for U.S. buyers fell flat, while “Shortbus,” a left-field midnight pic impressed distribs — but left them scratching their heads as to how it might fare with auds and, in some cases, corporate parents.

“Southland Tales” from Richard Kelly, the helmer of cult hit “Donnie Darko,” was one of the highest priorities on specialty film execs’ lists — one of the few pics for those seeking English-lingo fare with commercially appealing casts.

Pic stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Seann William Scott, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Mandy Moore. But “Tales” runs 160 minutes, and is a multi-genre hybrid, with thriller, sci-fi and musical elements. Turntablist Moby scored most of the pic’s music.

But after “Tales” screened Sunday morning, buyers left underwhelmed. Many walked away calling the pic a well-intentioned, but unfocused affair. Then again, Kelly’s “Darko” was widely misunderstood by the industry when it screened at Sundance in 2001, and floundered before becoming a hip homevid phenom.

“Tales” was set to screen again Sunday evening. Pic’s reps said that four studios had not yet seen the pic as of its first screening.

Universal owns multiple territories worldwide and had a peek at the pic in advance.

John Cameron Mitchell’s racy “Shortbus,” meantime, went over well with many distribs, though the pic, which features explicit sexual content, is sure to be rated NC-17.

Such a rating would mean it can’t be booked in most cinema chains or be advertised on TV and in print.

Some studio subsids, including the newly named Paramount Vantage, were said to like the pic. But such divisions must usually get permission from their corporate parent to pull the trigger on possible NC-17 fare.

Indie units that are not MPAA signatories can go the unrated route.

Either way, the pic has been drawing fans along the Croisette who say they appreciate its humor, and other charms, outside of any potentially titillating qualities.

Indie stand-alones that are circling “Shortbus” include ThinkFilm, Newmarket and Roadside Attractions, according to sources after the pic premed, appropriately, at a midnight show Saturday.

Another pic drawing interest after its preem was Andrea Arnold’s “Red Road,” the Scottish tale of a closed-circuit TV operator who confronts a man from her past when he crosses her screen.

Enthusiasm was additionally being voiced for a handful of smaller, foreign pics, including the Aboriginal “Ten Canoes” and Hungarian “Taxidermia.”

But biz was bubbling beneath the surface. Writer-director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s East German-era drama “The Lives of Others” (Das leben der anderen) was also said to be nearing a U.S. deal.

The unenthusiastic response to “Southland Tales” left many on the Croisette deflated, considering that that pic had arrived with such hot anticipation, and is one of the few pics available to U.S. distribs.

“It’s made an already slim market even slimmer,” noted one.

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