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Olivier Marchal’s star rises in France

Director's crime drama 'A Gang Story' sells well worldwide

PARIS — With his latest film, “A Gang Story,” nearly sold out worldwide before its release date, cop-turned-filmmaker Olivier Marchal has cemented his reputation as the kingpin of French crime on the bigscreen — and on TV.

“A Gang Story” opened in France on Nov. 30 with 440 copies and has had a stronger bow than “36,” Marchal’s biggest success to date while his series “Braquo” continues to deliver auds for paybox Canal Plus.

“My films pay homage to the iconic filmmakers I grew up admiring — Michael Mann, Sidney Lumet, Jim Jarmusch, Sergio Leone — and French masters (Jean Pierre) Melville and Claude Sautet, to name a couple. All mixed well with my cop sensibility,” says the 53-year-old French thesp-director. He cites Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in the West,” Sean Penn’s “The Pledge” and Lumet’s “Serpico” as three pics that exerted a major influence on him.

” ‘Serpico’ is the film that made me want to become a cop,” says Marchal, who joined Versailles’ crime-busting unit in 1980 and later worked in an anti-terrorist brigade, before switching to acting and helming.

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His previous three directorial efforts — “Gangsters,” which earned $1.8 million at the box office; “36” ($16.9 million); and “The Last Deadly Mission” ($7.4 million) — have earned critical praise and were commercially successful — all sold to major territories.

The first season of “Braquo,” which aired in 2009, broke the record for French fiction dramas on Canal Plus, drawing an average of 1.2 million viewers, 18.6% of all Canal Plus subscribers. The second season, penned by Abdel Raouf Dafri (“A Prophet”) and co-produced by Marchal, is currently airing and has been taking an average share of 20%. “Braquo” has also been acquired by international networks, including the U.K.’s FX, and a U.S. remake deal is in negotiation.

Through his work, Marchal says he’s demonstrated that “you can be an auteur, stay true to yourself and make entertaining genre films and TV series.” Those so-called French auteur dramas where you can have lenghty sequence shots of a couple in bed or two guys in a kitchen — they aren’t made with an audience in mind and they bore me beyond words,” says Marchal. “That’s not my idea of cinema.”

Cecile Gaget, prexy of international sales at Gaumont, which has been distributing and selling all of Marchal’s pics, apart from “Gangsters,” says the helmer has loyal followers.

“Marchal is one of France’s top four directors, along with Jacques Audiard (“A Prophet”), Fred Cavaye (“Point Blank”) and Jean-Francois Richet (“Public Enemy Number One”) who can make powerful, modern cop thrillers and crime movies that appeal to international audiences,” says Gaget, pointing out that she and co-worker Yohann Comte sold the film to half the world based on a eight-minute promo at Berlin, while other territories, including the U.S. (with the Weinstein Co.), were closed this summer after Gaumont unveiled a cut of the film.

Depicting the world of cops from the inside, Marchal’s pics have been breaking away from the stereotypes of many French procedurals, giving a more authentic and nuanced view of policemen and gangsters.

With “A Gang Story,” Marchal strayed from his usual police drama to tell a story from a gangster’s perspective — he also worked with his biggest budget yet, some $20 million.

Up next, Marchal has already signed his next two new projects, “Bronx” and “Montespan” with Gaumont and Paris-based production shingle LGM, headed by Cyril Colbeau-Justin and Jean-Baptiste Dupont. Described by Marchal as his “French ‘Miami Vice,’ ” “Bronx” is set in the French Riviera and deals with the Georgian mafia. “Montespan” is an epic melodrama turning on Louis XIV’s favorite mistress

Although it sounds like a departure from the gritty world of cops and robbers he’s known for, Marchal says “Montespan” weaves together some of the same themes as his police thrillers, despite it being a period piece, adding that it will be very dark and modern, a la Stanley Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon,” one of his favorite films.

On the TV front, Marchal is developing “Section Zero,” a cop thriller set in 2030 Paris, for Canal Plus.

Meanwhile, Marchal says he’s been offered to direct an adaptation of Mario Puzo’s “Omerta” but would rather make his English-language debut with a Western in the vein of Henry Fonda starrer “Warlock.”

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