‘Coco’ heats up European box office

French comedy outpaces sluggish 'Duplicity'

There was good news and bad news at the international box office over the March 20-22 weekend.

The good news was French comedy “Coco,” which rocketed to No. 3 at the international box office after opening to a hefty $10.5 million in Belgium and France. “Coco” scored the best opening of the year in France, where it’s distributed by StudioCanal.

“Coco” marks the directorial debut of Gad Elmaleh, the immensely popular French comedian, who also toplines the laffer.

Elmaleh’s pic has big shoes to fill. Last year, French comedy “Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis” grossed $245 million worldwide, with nearly $200 million from France alone. Like that film, “Coco” received ho-hum reviews.

The B.O.’s bad news: Not even Julia Roberts could rally much of an audience for Universal’s caper pic “Duplicity.” The film, pairing Roberts with Brit-born Clive Owen, managed to come in only No. 10 in its day-and-date bow, grossing $4 million from 1,005 locations in 10 markets.

“Duplicity’s” domestic debut also was soft. Film grossed $14 million to place No. 3.

“Coco” wasn’t the only local film — or comedy — enjoying good biz.

German laffer “Mannersache” grossed $6.8 million in its debut in Germany and Austria to place No. 5 overall for the frame. The laffer stars popular funnyman Mario Barth, and is directed by Gernot Roll. It scored the second-best German debut of 2009 after “Twilight” and Constantin’s best opening gross since “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” in 2007.

The laughter didn’t end there. Italian comedy “La Matassa” stayed at No. 1 for the weekend, and cements the box office mojo of comic duo Ficarra and Picone. Pic dropped just 36% in its soph sesh, grossing $2.4 million via Medusa for a strong Italian cume of $7.3 million.

Switching tones, Pedro Almodovar’s Penelope Cruz-topliner “Broken Embraces” got off to a strong start in Spain. The pic grossed $1.9 million in its first five days for a $5,517 per-location average, the best performance for a Spanish pic since Woody Allen’s Spanish co-production “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.”

Bookers in Spain were looking to “Embraces” to re-energize the box office. Analysis of whether Almodovar’s film accomplished that task was mixed.

“They aren’t spectacular figures, though they’re in line with the more positive end of projections,” one booker says.

Another booker adds: “Almodovar’s feature won’t come up against any powerful rivals for the next two weeks, but it’s not an easy movie to build word-of-mouth around.”

“Embraces” will roll out in Europe in the coming weeks. It’s not scheduled to open in North America until late November. Almodovar’s latest pic is a modern-day, four-way love story shot in the style of a 1950s film noir.

Winning the weekend overall was Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire.” Pic grossed north of $10.5 million in its 19th week in release for a foreign total of $147.9. That put the international gross ahead of the domestic total for the first time. The pic’s domestic cume through March 22 was $136.8 million for a worldwide total of $284.7 million.

David Hayhurst in Paris, Emilio Mayorga in Madrid, Ed Meza in Berlin and Nick Vivarelli in Rome contributed to this report.