Pusan strengthens French connection

'Butterfly' among the films making the rounds

PARIS — For French producers keen to crack the Asian market, Pusan is fast becoming a shop window sans pareil.

This year, 20 of the festival’s 275 pics are either French made or co-produced, a substantial increase from last October when 12 French-funded pics made the cut. Pusan is hosting its first world premiere of a French pic — Pascal Thomas’ “L’Heure zero,” an adaptation of an Agatha Christie novel.

Both Thomas and Melville Poupaud, who stars alongside Laura Smet, Chiara Mastroianni and Daniele Darrieux, will be in attendance. So will Claude Lelouch, whose new pic “Roman de Gare” (“Crossed Tracks”), starring Fanny Ardant, is in the same mold as “L’Heure zero.”

Lelouch, who was pummeled mercilessly by French crix for his past two pics, originally made “Roman de Gare” under a pseudonym. The ploy looks to have worked with the veteran helmer, who turns 70 at the end of the month, drawing his best notices in years.

German director Volker Schloendorff arrives in Pusan with his new pic, “Ulzhan,” which reteams him with “Tin Drum” screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere. A French-German-Kazakhstan production, “Ulzhan” is set in Kazakhstan and offers an alternative look at the central Asian country than the one that was offered by “Borat.”

Also in attendance will be French helmer Serge Bozon, whose World War I pic “La France” stars Sylvie Testud and Guillaume Depardieu, who won this year’s Prix Jean Vigo. Testud has received plaudits for her performance as a young woman who disguises herself as a man and sets out to look for her husband last seen fighting on the Western Front.

Many of the French films screening at Pusan were in and out of competition at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Most prominent are “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” which won helmer Julian Schnabel the prize for top director, and Gus Van Sant’s Portland-set skateboard drama “Paranoid Park,” produced by French indie MK2.

Schnabel’s pic stars French thesp Mathieu Amalric (“Munich”) as Jean-Dominique Baubet, a journalist struck down by paralysis. The film will get a limited December release in the U.S. in time for Oscar consideration.

One of the more intriguing films at the fest is Cannes fest-produced “Chacun son cinema,” a collection of 33 shorts by various directors depicting their feelings about cinema.

Other pics to have screened at Cannes and now unspooling at Pusan are “Apres lui,” Gael Morel’s melancholic tale about a woman (Catherine Deneuve) who struggles to come to terms with her son’s death in a car accident; “The Pope’s Toilet,” a slice of Uruguayan whimsy directed by Fernando Mereilles’ longtime cinematographer Cesar Charlone; and Carlos Reygadas’ “Silent Light” (French/Mexican co-production), about a married man whose faith in God is put to the test when he falls for another woman.

Many of the French co-productions screening at Pusan have the kind of baroque storylines and wind-swept locations that would be favored by the late Andrei Tarkovsky.

There is Kryzysztof Zanussi’s Italian-language, Sicilian-set “Black Sun,” about a young widow who struggles to forgive her husband’s killer; Asif Kapadia’s English-language love triangle “Far North,” which features a lone soldier (Sean Bean) who upsets two women’s peaceful lives; Micha Wald’s “Voleurs de chevaux,” about a band of horse thieves in 19th-century eastern Europe; and Hiner Saleem’s “Dol,” in which a Kurdish man is forced to flee his homeland.

Also screening are Ariel Rotter’s Argentine drama “The Other,” which won the Grand Jury Prize at Berlin and was co-produced with French, German and Argentine coin; Sandra Kogut’s “Mutum,” set amid the Brazilian mountains; Newton Aduaka’s “Ezra,” about the child soldiers of Sierra Leone; and “1 journee,” Jacob Berger’s film that tackles a Swiss family falling apart.

The only documentary in the mix is “Elle s’appelle Sabine,” French thesp Sandrine Bonnaire’s wrenching portrait about her autistic sister, Sabine.

One of the most sought-after pics among Asian distributors to screen at last year’s festival was the Claudie Ossard-produced “Paris, je t’aime.” Pic was picked up by South Korean, Japanese, Singaporean, Indonesian, Thai and Taiwanese distributors.