MADRID — Cannes would not quite be Cannes without a film starring French actress Isabelle Huppert.
It’s just got one: Thirteen-time Cannes competition contender Huppert toplines comedy “Paris Follies,” helmed by France’s Marc Fitoussi, that big Gallic sales-distribution-production house SND-M6 Group brings on to the market at Cannes this year.
A new film from Huppert, the femme lead in Michael Cimino’s now rehabilitated “Heaven’s Gate,” is an event in itself. Seen recently Stateside in Michael Haneke’s Oscar-winner “Amour,” and a double Cannes actress winner (for “Violette Noziere” and Haneke’s “The Piano Teacher”), she is arguably the best French actress of her generation.
Another “Follies” lure, however, is its age-set. The U.S. is not alone in its gray surge. France is also reaping mature aud dividends. And companies are taking note.
A later-life crisis romp — Huppert has just turned 60 — “Follies” is just one of five films on SND-M6’s Cannes slate that features protags from their late 40s through to 60s.
Exhibit B: “Get Well Soon,” from Jean Becker (“My Afternoons With Margueritte”), now in production, which stars Gerard Lanvin, a resilient French charmer, as a cantankerous hospital patient.
Summit’s distributor in Gaul, SND has French and worldwide distribution rights on “Follies” and “Get Well.”
SND’s Cannes slate runs a wide gamut. Another new SND pick-up for international, Critics’ Week only French player, “Our Heroes Died Tonight,” from debutant David Perrault, is an edgy bromance noirer set in Paris ‘60s wrestling scene.
That said, “The gray-hair 45-plus segment is France’s fastest-growing segment over the last five-to-10 years,” said Lionel Uzan, SND sales and acquisitions head.
“The growth is pretty spectacular,” he added.
So are at times the results.
Of SND’s older-skewing, recent French releases in Gaul, “True Friends,” a tender tale of childhood friends who are now knocking 60, from first-time helmers Stephan Archinard and Francois Prevet-Leygonie, grossed Euros5.5 million ($7.2 million) off a Jan. 30 bow.
2011’s second-chance romantic comedy “The Woman on the Sixth Floor” grossed $19 million in France.
Over-45 movies “can often be made on contained budgets, setting manageable box office targets,” Uzan argued. None on SND’s current slate cost over $10 million.
Also, Uzan noted, “There’s an overseas market for mature audience films and distributors looking to reach that market.”
“Sixth Floor” has “nearly sold out” worldwide. “True Friends” has closed about 20 territories, said Uzan.
“Follies” and “Get Well Soon” are also logical hits, feel-good senior fare: They offer auds a demonstration, however fictional, that their lives are not played out.
In “Get Well,” Lanvin’s character finds physical and finally emotional mend.
Produced by Avenue B Productions, Fitoussi’s “Follies” captures Huppert in droll free-wheeling comic mode as a stolid farmer’s wife who suddenly ups and offs, leaving hubby for a whirlwind weekend in Paris, where she meets a charming Swede (Michael Nyqvist, “Millennium”). It’s a moment of madness. But her action may prove to save her marriage.
“Marc Fitoussi has proven a rare skill to capture the fleeting moments of life, the hesitation and choice we are all confronted with,” said Uzan.
Audiences nearing the golden age will be delighted to see that things can still change. They’re not done yet.