French at Toronto: Aiming wide within budget

Buyers are hungry for a value meal

In the brave new world of Gallic art film sales, vendors are cutting down minimum guarantees, looking for films with crossover, high-concept or commercial potential and plunging into production of ever more foreign titles, hoping to see upside from local B.O. hits.

Mini-majors — Studio Canal, MK2 and EuropaCorp — are moving further into high-profile French or English-language features with solid commercial appeal.

“There are more opportunities to access exciting projects and talent on the independent market, but the economics of these deals are tougher than ever,” says Harold Van Lier, StudioCanal international sales topper. “Prices are stabilizing for films that can still sell strongly across all media and generate strong theatrical upside.”

At Toronto, StudioCanal is launching “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” adapting John Le Carre’s novel that will be produced by Working Title. It will also preem “Brighton Rock” from writer-director Rowan Joffe (“Last Resort”).

“Director-driven films will continue to sell well, assuming they have a compelling script and $5 million-$12 million budgets — the ideal range to finance out of Europe,” Van Lier says.

However, EuropaCorp’s co-founder Pierre Ange Le Pogam says deals take longer to materialize for all manner of films. “It’s still a tough market where you sell on images rather than scripts.”

Best known for high-voltage actioners (“Taken”), Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp has two French dramas at Toronto: Eric Lartigau’s “The Big Picture,” from Douglas Kennedy’s novel, with Romain Duris, and the Marion Cotillard starrer “Little White Lies,” a dramedy directed by thesp-turned-helmer Guillaume Canet.

Both pics are script-driven with appealing casts and budgets that range between $13 million and $18 million — a formula that worked for Duris starrer “Heartbreaker,” which sold in all major territories except Japan.

“For the past three years, we’ve tried to balance out our production slate with both artpics like ‘The Concert’ or ‘Tell No One’ and vfx-packed actioners like ‘Transporter’ or ‘Taken,’ ” explains Le Pogam. “That’s a strategy we wish to develop further.”

Up next for EuropaCorp is Radu Mihaileanu’s “The Source,” a Morocco-set comedy, and Olivier Megaton’s thriller “Colombiana,” toplining Zoe Saldana and set in Latin America and the U.S.

Meanwhile, arthouse players like Pyramide Distribution and Le Pacte are focusing on script-driven, reasonably budgeted niche films with crossover appeal.

Pyramide, a leading French distributor/sales agent, is one of the few companies still putting down minimum guarantees on first films and foreign indie pics.

The strategy’s paid off. At Cannes, the outfit had seven films playing in various sections, including Jury Prize winner “A Screaming Man” and “Leap Year,” which took the Camera d’Or kudo. Moreover, the company boasts various B.O. sleeper hits this year — notably Riccardo Scamarcio-starrer “Mine Vaganti” and Stephen Frears’ “Tamara Drewe” — which made up for declining international sales, says Pyramide topper Eric Lagesse.

“Niche films have promising prospects in this market because they represent smaller financial investments than bigger films,” says Le Pacte founder Jean Labadie. “And it’s a cinema that will continue to attract filmgoers not easily lured by blockbusters.”

Founded three years ago by Labadie, Le Pacte has thrived thanks to European arthouse films directed by up-and-coming and more established helmers, including Mathieu Amalric (“On Tour”) and Christophe Honore (Toronto market screener “Homme au bain”).

But whereas a few years ago art films could fully finance via pre-sales and minimum guarantees, that’s no longer the case, says Labadie.

Films Distribution topper Nicolas Brigaud Robert agrees: “Overall, minimum guarantees given by international sales companies have dropped significantly in France because vendors — just like buyers — are taking less risks.”

Per Brigaud-Robert, international sales coin has been replaced by other sources: tax shelter investment, public subsidies and co-production funding. Le Pacte now co-produces many of the films it distributes. Some recent examples include Nanni Moretti’s “Habemus Papam.”

“The only way we can get high-quality films generating upside is to feed the pipeline and help producers finance their projects,” says Labadie. Moreover, co-producing is a great way to generate medium- and long-term revenues.

A flurry of French vendors are also widening their spectrum with non-French fare, tapping into often-booming local production.

Labadie says Le Pacte will distribute upcoming Spanish gore pics “Rec 3” and “Rec 4,” and has taken domestic and international on Saverio Costanzo’s “The Solitude of Prime Numbers,” which plays Toronto’s Contemporary Works section.

Gregoire Melin’s Kinology, which mainly handles high-concept, bigger-budget pics, also has “Rare Exports,” a Finnish fantasy directed by first-time feature helmer Jalmari Helander, and Rodrigo Cortes’ Sundance hit “Buried” in his lineup.

Meanwhile, medium- and small-size international sales outfits such as Roissy Films and Wide Management are either adding more docus and world cinema titles or, like Films Distribution, diversifying genres.

“The market still lacks a sense of direction,” says Brigaud-Robert. “Buyers are back in business but don’t know what’s going to work.”

Indeed, Films Distribution’s slate ranges from Toronto player “L’Amour fou,” a docu biopic of Yves Saint Laurent, and “A Village of Shadow,” a low-budget Gallic horror pic, to Sophie Marceau-starrer “With Love… From the Age of Reason,” a feel-good dramedy, and Wang Xiaoshuai’s “Chongqing Blues.”

But as Bac Films intl. sales director Camille Neel sales puts it, “Given the rise of P&A costs and the drop in independent cinema numbers in the world, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to convince distributors to roll out films in theaters.”

The way forward, says Unifrance topper Regine Hatchondo, lies in digital distribution.

“In the long term,” says Hatchondo, “VOD will allow indie films to harness broader audiences and generate revenues.”

Pics that Gallic sales companies are handling at Toronto


“Last Night”
Massy Tadjedin (France/U.S.) — world premiere
Intl. sales: Gaumont
Debutante helmer Tadjedin draws a stellar cast — Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, Eva Mendes and Guillaume Canet — to explore issues of suspicion and temptation in modern-day relationships.

“Little White Lies”
Guillaume Canet (France) — world premiere
Intl. sales: EuropaCorp
Despite a traumatic event, a group of friends go ahead with their vacation, where relationships, convictions and friendships are tested. Francois Cluzet, Marion Cotillard star.

Francois Ozon (France)
Intl. sales: Wild Bunch
Catherine Deneuve plays the wife of a rich industrialist and Gerard Depardieu a trade unionist in Ozon’s comedy about a strike.

“Sarah’s Key”
Gilles Paquet Brenner (France) — world premiere
Intl. sales: Kinology
Kristin Scott Thomas stars as an American journalist in contempo France who uncovers secrets about Gallic complicity in the roundup of Jews in 1942.


“Red Nights”
Julien Carbon, Laurent Courtiaud (Hong Kong, China/France) — world premiere
Intl. sales: Films Distribution
Hong Kong-set thriller about a dragon lady’s pursuit of an ancient white jade seal.


“A Horrible Way to Die”
Adam Wingard (U.S.)
Intl. sales: Celluloid Nightmares
A serial killer escapes from prison and tracks down his former girlfriend.

Gregg Araki (U.S./France)
Intl. sales: Wild Bunch
Campus-set comedy about a paranoid bisexual dabbling in drugs and the occult.

“Our Day Will Come”
Romain Gavras (France) — world premiere
Intl. sales: TF1 Intl.
Vincent Cassel stars in music vid helmer’s feature debut about a couple of renegade redheads who embark on a hallucinatory roadtrip.


John Sayles (U.S.) — world premiere
Intl. sales: Rezo
A chronicle of the U.S. occupation of the Philippines in 1900.

“L’ Amour fou”
Pierre Thoretton (France) — world premiere
Intl. sales: Films Distribution
Docu by this debut filmmaker about Yves Saint Laurent’s art collection.

“Balada Triste (The Last Circus)”
Alex de la Iglesia (Spain/France)
Intl. sales: Films Distribution
A tragi-comic farce about the destructive power of love and the absurdity and tragedy of civil war.

“The Big Picture”
Eric Lartigau (France) — world premiere
Intl. sales: EuropaCorp
Roman Duris stars as a banker who tries to fulfill his dream of working as a photographer.

“Brighton Rock”
Rowan Joffe (U.K.) — world premiere
Intl. sales: StudioCanal
Graham Greene’s story about a young gangster and naive waitress is transposed to the ’60s.

Rodrigo Cortes, Spain/U.S.
Intl. sales: Kinology
An American truck driver, played by Ryan Reynolds, is buried alive in a coffin with only a cell phone and a lighter and 90 minutes to escape.

“Deep in the Woods”
Benoit Jacquot (France/Germany)
Intl. sales: Films Distribution
Set in 19th-century France, a bourgeois young woman falls under the spell of a feral man, who emerges from the forest.

Xavier Dolan (Canada)
Intl. sales: Rezo
Soph pic from Dolan, after the well-received “J’ai tue ma mere,” looks at a menage a trois with a hint of Almodovar in its comic undertones.

“The Illusionist”
Sylvain Chomet (U.K.)
Intl. sales: Pathe Intl.
Animation from the “The Triplets of Belleville” helmer working from a script by Jacques Tati about an aging conjurer and a girl who believes in his magical abilities.

“Jack Goes Boating”
Philip Seymour Hoffman (U.S.)
Intl. sales: Celluloid Dreams
Hoffman, who also stars, makes his helming debut with an adaptation of Bob Glaudini’s play about middle-aged love.

Andrucha Waddington
(Brazil/Spain) — world premiere
Intl. sales: Wild Bunch
Biopic of the passionate Spanish playwright Lope de Vega.

“Love Crime”
Alain Corneau (France)
Intl. sales: TF1 Intl.
Kristin Scott Thomas and Ludivine Sagnier star in a battle of the execs that turns nasty.

Julian Schnabel (U.K./Israel/France)
Intl. sales: Pathe Intl.
Schnabel, who won best director at Cannes for “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” presents a depiction of recent Palestine history through the eyes of four women.

“Outside the Law”
Rachid Bouchareb (France/Algeria/
Intl. sales: StudioCanal
Bouchareb takes the three brothers from his Oscar-nommed “Days of Glory” and follows them as they diverge into radical politics and gangsterism.

“A Screaming Man”
Mahamat-Saleh Haroun (France/Belgium/Chad)
Intl. sales: Pyramide Intl.
Cannes’ jury prizewinner portrays a father-son conflict in war-torn Chad.


“Africa United”
Debs Gardner-Paterson (U.K.) – world premiere
Intl. sales: Pathe Intl.
Rwandan boys try to make their way to South Africa to attend the soccer World Cup.

“Black Ocean”
Marion Hansel (Belgium/France/Germany)
Intl. sales: Doc & Film Intl.
The innocence of three young sailors is set in contrast with a nuclear threat.

“Even the Rain”
Iciar Bollain (Spain/France/Mexico) – world premiere
Intl. sales: Wild Bunch
Gael Garcia Bernal toplines a drama about exploitation in Latin America both now and at the time of the Spanish Conquistadors.

“The Human Resources Manager”
Eran Riklis (Israel/Germany/France/Romania)
Intl. sales: Pyramide Intl.
The HR manager of an Israeli bakery atones for his selfish ways by escorting the body of an employee to her home in Russia.

“Leap Year”
Michael Rowe (Mexico)
Intl. sales: Pyramide Intl.
Cannes’ Camera d’Or winner for debut film depicts a lonely woman’s descent into a sadomasochistic hell.

Peter Mullan (U.K./France/Italy) – world premiere
Intl. sales: Wild Bunch
Mullan follows Venice winner “The Magdalene Sisters” with a gritty depiction of a Glaswegian teen turning into a delinquent.

“Of Gods and Men”
Xavier Beauvois (France)
Intl. sales: Wild Bunch
Based on a true story, pic looks at the dilemma faced by a group of French monks living in Algeria when faced with religious extremism and the treat of violence.

Bogdan George Apetri (Romania)
Intl. sales: MK2
A young woman released from jail for a day to attend her mother’s funeral sets out to tend to some unfinished business before making her escape.

Silent Souls
Aleksei Fedorchenko (Russia)
Intl. sales: Memento Films Intl.
This tale set in an obscure Finno-Ugric community, which has ancient and mystical beliefs, centers on two men united in grief after the death of the woman they loved.

The Solitude of Prime Numbers
Saverio Costanzo (Italy, Germany, France)
Intl. sales: Le Pacte
Coming-of-age drama, based on a bestseller, in which two youngsters are linked by tragic events, yet doomed to lives of isolation.

“State of Violence”
Khalo Matabane (South Africa/France)
Intl. sales: Pyramide Intl.
Tale of revenge in South Africa when the violent past of a former revolutionary — now a rich business exec — comes back to haunt him.

“Tender Son — The Frankenstein Project”
Kornel Mundruczo (Hungary/Germany/Austria)
Intl. sales: Coproduction Office
The role of Mary Shelley’s monster is taken by a 17-year-old thug who seeks human kindness in contempo Hungary.


“Brownian Movement”
Nanouk Leopold (Netherlands/Germany/Belgium) — world premiere
Intl. sales: Films Distribution
The wife of an architect engages in a string of affairs with randomly chosen men.

Denis Cote (Canada)
Intl. sales: Doc & Film Intl.
The tale of a loner and his daughter, whom he keeps at home in a Quebec village.

“The Ditch”
Wang Bing (France/Belgium)
Intl. sales: Wild Bunch
A harrowing depiction of life in a labor camp during the Great Leap Forward in Mao’s China.

“The Four Times”
Michelangelo Frammartino
Intl. sales: Coproduction Office
Poetic vision of life lived through four incarnations, starting with a goat herd in Southern Italy.

“Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow”
Sophie Fiennes (U.K./France/Netherlands)
Intl. sales: Doc & Film Intl.
Fiennes’ docu delivers a probing portrait of radical artist Anselm Kiefer.


“Film Socialisme”
Jean-Luc Godard (Switzerland)
Intl. sales: Wild Bunch
Godard presents a fragmented vision of contempo society: corrupt, rootless and crumbling.

“I Wish I Knew”
Jia Zhangke (China/The Netherlands)
Intl. sales: MK2 Intl.
A docu history and poetic portrait of Shanghai from the helmer of “Still Life,” which won the Golden Lion at Venice.

“Mysteries of Lisbon”
Raul Ruiz (Portugal/France)
Intl. sales: Doc & Film Intl.
Costumer about intrigue and deceit among the aristocracy in 19th-century Portugal.

“Nostalgia for the Light”
Patricio Guzman (France/Germany/Chile)
Intl. sales: Pyramide Intl.
Docu that juxtaposes the search by Chileans for the remains of relatives murdered by the military and astronomers looking for insights into the origin of the universe.

“Roses a credit”
Amos Gitai (France) — world premiere
Intl. sales: AGAV Films
A drama centering on a middle-class marriage in 1940s and ’50s France in which consumerism smothers the romance of the early years.

“Route Irish”
Ken Loach (U.K./France/Belgium/Italy/Spain)
Intl. sales: Wild Bunch
Thriller about a private security officer in Iraq who sets out to avenge the death of a friend.

“The Sleeping Beauty”
Catherine Breillat (France)
Intl. sales: Pyramide Intl.
A playful and visually arresting adaptation of the fairytale exploring issues of gender, love and morality.

“The Strange Case of Angelica”
Manoel de Oliveira (Portugal/Spain/France/Brazil)
Intl. sales: Pyramide Intl.
A photographer falls in love with a dead woman, who starts to haunt him as he meditates on the nature of art.


“Boxing Gym”
Frederick Wiseman (U.S.)
Intl. sales: Doc & Film Intl.
The master documaker turns his lens on a boxing gym in Texas.

“The Game of Death”
Christophe Nick, Thomas Bornot (France)
Intl. sales: Rezo
A docu that takes the premise of Stanley Milgram’s 1960s experiments about obedience into the milieu of the TV gameshow.


Diego and Daniel Vega
Intl. sales: UMedia
Drama set in Lima during a religious festival sees a miser, left a foundling, go in search of the mother.

“The Place in Between”
Sarah Bouyain (France/Burkina Faso)
Intl. sales: Colifilms Diffusion
Story centers on the efforts of a young French woman to trace her roots in Burkina Faso.

“Rare Exports:
A Christmas Tale”

Jalmari Helander
Intl. sales: Kinology
An unusual take on the Santa myth as seen through the eyes of a Sami boy.


“10 to 11”
Pelin Esmer (Turkey/France/Germany)
Intl. sales: Colifilms Diffusion
Old Istanbul is contrasted with the new Istanbul in this drama about an old man threatened with eviction.


“Sammy’s Adventures:
The Secret Passage”

Ben Stassen (Belgium)
Intl. sales: StudioCanal
The 3D toon adventures of Sammy the sea turtle as he searches the ocean for his true love, Shelly.

— Leo Barraclough