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French pics have laughs, will travel

Unifrance Paris Rendez-Vous 2013

Comedies can sell as well as dramas. The 15th Unifrance Paris Rendez-vous kicks off with Daniele Thompson’s “It Happened in Saint- Tropez,” from Pathe. And over the next four days, a score of other laffers are set to unspool at the market with some of France’s biggest film companies rolling out their top comedy picks.

These include Gaumont’s “The Brats,” starring Alain Chabat (“Houba! On the Trail of the Marsupilami”), and Michael Youn’s high-concept laffer “Vive la France.”

Plus, EuropaCorp will shop David Moreau’s romantic comedy “Hit Boy,” Philippe Lellouche’s “Almost Charming” and Gerard Depardieu starrer “World Petanque Tour”; SND will push Gerard Lanvin starrer “True Friends,” centering on three friends facing each other’s white lies; Studiocanal will roll out comicbook-based retro-style comedy “Billy and Buddy”; and Films Distribution is showing “Queen of Montreuil,” a dramedy from Iceland’s Solveig Anspach, and bowing Brigitte Rouan’s Greece-set ensemble comedy, “A Greek Type of Problem.”

As Pathe’s Muriel Sauzay points out, “In a crisis, everybody’s looking for brighter, funnier subject matter, to be entertained. It’s very comparable to the ’30s.”

“It’s actually a bit easier these days to export comedies than many straightforward dramas, unless they’re big Cannes titles such as ‘Amour.’ The market is looking for more light-hearted titles,” says Charlotte Boucon, SND head of international sales.

Also, “The Intouchables,” a €9.5 million ($12.5 million) movie that grossed $420.7 million worldwide, continues driving up the biz, per Regine Hatchondo, managing director at Unifrance. “Buyers don’t want to miss out on another gem,” she says.

“One of the things ‘Intouchables’ underscored is the know-how we have in France to produce well-made comedies with reasonable budgets that can click with mainstream audiences,” says Marie-Laure Montironi, international sales topper at EuropaCorp. “Foreign distributors now come to French sales agents looking for well-polished comedies budgeted under $16 million.”

The surge in comedy appeal is goosed by domestic factors. Gallic laffers with known cast tend to be better-financed than other French movies : They often command large auds in Gaul so are backed to the hilt by local broadcasters, Boucon says. TV backing ensures fulsome budgets and top-notch production levels.

Plus, France and the French-speaking regions of Belgium and Switzerland now play like one single market for mainstream fare, meaning French comedy juggernauts go gangbusters in Belgium and Switzerland. Over 2003-11, French film sales revenues from Benelux skyrocketed 279% to $9.2 million, according to CNC stats.

However, “Comedies, like other genres, require us to put a large emphasis on marketing in order to facilitate the work of distributors at every stage,” says Cecile Gaget, Gaumont Intl. topper, who sold “Intouchables” worldwide. For “Vive la France,” Gaget says Gaumont Intl. is even prepping a jokes adaptation guide for distributors. “We did it for ‘Intouchables’ and it worked well.”

French comedies that travel best aren’t necessarily the straighforward gag-ladden laffers, which tend to be too culturally specific to cross borders, but rather the dramedies and romantic comedies. For instance, Gaget describes “The Brats” as a “romantic, funny, yet touching comedy,” while Sauzay suggests “Saint-Tropez” is a sort of French twist on Woody Allen’s dysfunctional family tales.

The Rendez-vous’ love affair with comedies goes back a few years. Some of the biggest breakouts — “Welcome to the Sticks,” “Heartbreaker,” “Change of Plans,” “The Players” and “Love Lasts Three Years” — sneak-preemed at the RDV.

“The RDV is a good launch-pad for light-hearted and commercial movies,” says Nicolas Brigaud-Robert, co-topper at Films Distribution. “Comedies seldom fare well even with film critics when they’re screening at festivals.”

Plus, Berlin creams off top Gallic arthouse titles and dramas, often leaving out comedies. So sellers say there’s less reason to keep them back.

Other notable RDV players include road movie “Rendez-vous in Kiruna,” from Pyramide, which is Anne Novion’s follow-up to critically well-received debut “Grown Ups,” and Jean-Paul Lilienfeld’s thriller “Arretez-moi,” starring Sophie Marceau.

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