Film mart shows French comedy gains

Rendez-vous reveals Europe is buying into Gallic humor

PARIS — At this year’s Paris Rendez-vous, the French film showcase backed by Gaul’s Unifrance, all eyes were on filmgoers in Germany.

Bowing Jan. 5. on 150 copies, Gallic B.O. phenom “Intouchables” (Untouchable) took a healthy €3.45 million ($4.4 million) from Teutonic auds in its first week; German distrib Senator raised the print run to 450; 32 more play ski resorts.

Those strong figures came as a Unifrance report, released at the Jan. 11-16 RDV, confirmed that 10 French comedies, topped by Dany Boon’s “Nothing to Declare” and Francois Ozon’s “Potiche,” ranked among the 20 French-language top theatrical grossers outside France in 2011. “Distributors are now saying ‘Maybe we need to trust our instincts and open up,'” Gaumont’s Cecile Gaget said at the RDV.

Among dramas, Lucas Belvaux’s somber murder story “38 Witnesses,” Safy Nebbou’s kidnap tale “Bad Seeds” and Lorraine Levy’s Middle Eastern cultural identity drama “Le fils de l’autre” were warmly received.

But the mart’s 440 foreign distribs — a record attendance per Unifrance prexy Antoine de Clermont-Tonnerre — put potential international comedy breakouts high on shopping lists.

One candidate was EuropaCorp’s “Love Lasts Three Years,” helmed by Gallic novelist Frederic Beigbeder, centering on a wisecracking social gadfly who falls for his cousin’s wife (Louise Bourgoin); another is dramedy “The Players,” with Jean Dujardin (“The Artist”) co-writing and co-directing, being sold by Wild Bunch. Pic reportedly had buyers in stitches.

French-language feel-good comedies now score far larger presales, says Gael Nouaille at Wild Bunch, citing hits “Potiche,” “The Concert” and “Little Nicholas.”

Sales agents were talking up comedies with more urgency. Other Angle’s Olivier Albou reported first sales — Switzerland (Frenetic) and Benelux (Victory) — on buddy cop dramedy “The Other Side of the Tracks,” toplining Omar Sy (“Intouchables”).

Buzzed-about productions at RDV included Pathe family comedy “The Name,” aimed somewhere between “The Dinner Game” and “Carnage,” says Pathe Intl.’s Muriel Sauzay; early ’60s romantic comedy “Populaire,” from producer Alain Attal, with Romain Duris and Berenice Bejo; Sundance pic “Wrong,” from Quentin Dupieux (“Rubber”), sold by Kinology; and Paris-set “The Chef,” with Jean Reno, presold by Gaumont.

With Wild Bunch preselling “Haute Cuisine,” about the French president’s personal chef, “French cinema in 2012 could be quite gastronomical,” Gaget said.

Distribs are hoping the returns are astronomical.