American distributors aren’t the only ones finding it challengingto release serious-minded pics this year. Filmgoers in France and Germany have revealed their own waning appetites for political fare by turning away from a brace of home-grown pics dealing with contentious episodes in their countries’ history.
There were high hopes initially for Gallic drama “Intimate Enemies” (L’Ennemi Intime). The $12 million pic, helmed by Florent Emilio Siri, has been dubbed France’s “Platoon” by some crix for its taboo-busting depiction of France’s “dirty war” in Algeria from 1954-1962 during the latter country’s fight for liberation from French colonization.
Despite generally positive notices, however, pic has under-performed at the box office, drawing in less than 400,000 admissions in its first three weeks of release.
That’s a far cry from Rachid Bouchareb’s “Days of Glory,” about Arab North African and African soldiers from France’s former colonies who fought to liberate Gaul from Nazi occupation. Oscar-nommed pic brought in more than 3 million admissions last year and convinced then-French prexy Jacques Chirac to end decades of injustice by upping pensions for war vets of North African origin to the same levels as French vets.
“Films like ‘Days of Glory’ and ‘Joyeux Noel’ were optimistic and more about fraternity, while ‘Intimate Enemies’ is very tough and gritty,” says Thierry Desmichelle, CEO of Gallic distrib SND, who handled pic’s release. “We are disappointed. We did a good job releasing the film but maybe the public is waiting for more optimistic films. There is a question over whether they want these types of subject matters.”
It was a similar story in Germany with the release of Holocaust drama “The Counterfeiters.”
Pic, a Teuton-Austrian co-production and Austria’s official Oscar submission, earned only 70,000 admissions in the country despite rave reviews following its preem at the Berlin Film Festival and plenty of media attention as one of the few German films to deal directly with the Holocaust.
Adolf Hitler biopic “Downfall” by contrast brought in 4.6 million admissions when it preemed in 2004.
“We didn’t do well. It’s difficult to explain why since we expected to be much more successful,” says Jasna Vavra, head of theatrical entertainment at German distrib Universum Film. “Maybe everyone is a little tired of films about the Third Reich and the audience wasn’t in the mood for it. I still think there are people who are interested in these types of films. We would release it again because it was an important film to put in theaters.”
Euro film execs aren’t despairing just yet, though.
Both “The Counterfeiters” and “Intimate Enemies” have picked up strong international sales on the back of fest buzz and should turn a profit down the line. “There are a number of films where the domestic results don’t necessarily decide the foreign results. We cared less about the German results because we’re confident the film will get short-listed for the Oscars. Domestic and international success need not go hand in hand,” says Andreas Rothbauer, head of international theatrical sales with Teuton sales agent Beta Cinema, who repped “The Counterfeiters.”
Sometimes aud’s outside the pic’s home country prove more open to the subject matter. Hollywood Oliver Stone’s “Alexander, a istorical biopic laden with subtext about the folly of military imperialism, only grossed $34 million Stateside, but brought in a robust overseas cume of $133 million.
It may be too early to judge the international B.O. performance of pics such as “Rendition,” “In The Valley of Elah,” and “The Kingdom,” but it would be ironic if these pix dealing with American military intervention in foreign lands were ultimately rescued at the box office by international audiences keen to see Hollywood embracing a more global outlook.