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PARIS — With a record 41 French pics playing at Toronto, Gallic movies will have the largest presence among foreign-language films at the fest. Meanwhile, Luc Besson’s blockbuster “Lucy” is sure to boost this year’s French films’ export figures, having grossed $218 million worldwide so far. But in reality, French-lingo movies are struggling to access theater screens, pushing local sales agents to seize different and non-traditional opportunities.

This certainly has been the case at recent movie markets, where sales agents are closing more and more deals with select digital platforms that are opening up to European arthouse fare. And while all-rights deals are proving harder to clinch, French movies are becoming hot material for foreign-language remakes in markets with strong local film industries. C’est la vie.

“Foreign-language remakes are getting more popular in markets like South Korea, India, Argentina and Brazil, which are dominated by local films and Hollywood movies, and where as a result, non-English-language films have trouble reaching audiences,” says Yohann Comte, deputy head of sales at Gaumont, which has five movies playing at Toronto, including “The Connection” with Jean Dujardin and Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache’s “Samba.”

“In these territories, production costs are lower than in France, so it makes more sense for a producer or a distributor to buy remake rights rather than pay a minimum guarantee for distribution rights,” adds Comte, who sold remake rights to “The Intouchables” to India’s Guneet Monga and Karan Johar, among other pacts, earlier this year.

Over at EuropaCorp and Studiocanal, the respective heads of sales Marie-Laure Montironi and Anna Marsh are also citing China, South Korea and India as the leaders of this foreign-language remake trend.

Italy is another territory where remakes of French films are flourishing, according Isabelle Giordano, managing director of Gaul’s film promotion org. A big push behind this trend in Italy is the success of “Benvenuti al sud,” the redo of Dany Boon’s B.O. smash hit “Welcome to the Sticks” that topped the Italian box office in 2010.

Other Italian remakes in the pipeline cited by Giordano include TF1-repped “Serial (Bad) Weddings,” this year’s comedy hit that’s sold over 12 million admissions, and “What’s in the Name,” sold by Pathe.

“Serial (Bad) Weddings” has also been optioned in Israel.

Pitched as a Gallic twist on “Project X,” “Babysitting,” sold by Other Angle, is yet another high-concept French comedy that was a hit in France and has garnered remake interests.

As with makeovers, VOD deals are becoming more frequent but for the most part remain concentrated on local box office hits, movies with an identifiable cast-director, or a genre or action film.

Indeed, the U.S. is still way ahead of the digital curve thanks to players like IFC, Magnolia, Lionsgate Roadside Attractions and TWC/Radius. And although foreign-language films are not yet bringing significant profits on VOD, that’s not keeping digital platforms from opening up to European fare, as long as it fits the criteria. TWC/Radius, for instance, pre-bought Danish werewolf pic “When Animals Dream” at Berlin, before its world premieres at Cannes’ Critics Week, and paid significant market guarantees to acquire it.

VOD is also a new option for French arthouse toonpics, since so few distributors, apart from GKids, pick them up. EuropaCorp, for instance, sold “A Monster in Paris” and “The Boy With the Cuckoo-Clock Heart” to Shout Factory.

“The deals we made with Shout Factory included minimum guarantees and royalties and we’ve already made some money with ‘A Monster in Paris,’ ” says Montironi.
Day-and-dating is also gaining momentum outside of the U.S., per Marsh. “There seems to be an increased appetite for day-and-date content with more and more actors using this method as a way of getting foreign films to market at minimal risk,” says the exec, whose Toronto slate boasts such upscale pics as “A Bigger Splash” and “We Are Your Friends.”

Marsh says VOD deals are becoming more lucrative “because we have a better understanding of the economic model and are able to refine deal terms accordingly.” Yet Camille Neel, head of sales at Le Pacte, who is hawking Cannes entries “Timbuktu” and “Salt of the Earth,” says, “Arthouse films don’t always yield m.g.’s and have so far never reached high levels.

“In China however, where reaching theaters can be tough, VOD could represent a viable alternative to theatrical and DVD for arthouse films,” adds Neel, citing the acquisition of Cannes competition entry “Timbuktu” by Lemon Tree Media.

As Europe produces about 900 films a year, VOD is an avenue for these movies that can’t get access to the traditional distribution circuit, says Alexis Derendinger, co-founder of Under the Milky Way, a U.S.-based aggregator of European films which gets them released across multi-territory platforms.

Derendinger points out that VOD deals can be more attractive than all-rights deals for small European arthouse films. “Sales agents get frustrated when they get minimum guarantees between $5,000 and $10,000 and have the rights blocked for 10 years.”

Adds Derendinger, “When sales agents deal with us, they pay between $1,000 and $1,500 to encode their films and in 90% of the cases, VOD sales, which can vary between $1,000 and $30,000, cover that expense.” For the past four years, prices have been going up, slowly but surely, he says.

As for the fate of French films abroad, Giordano points out to the new generation of local producers such as Charles Gillibert (“Eden”), Clement Miserez (“Belle and Sebastien”), Dimitri Rassam (“Paradise Lost”) and Mathias Rubin (“Mobius”) who are delivering movies for the French and international market.