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As Mexican Auds Embrace Local Comedies, Filmmakers Hope Dramas Can Cash In Too

For the past decade, Mexico has churned out bold, auteur filmmaking, but when those acclaimed works have hit local screens, results are often mediocre. Switch the focus to laughter, however, and auds show up in droves.

Even the nation’s most well-regarded dramas contain an element of comedy: Mexico’s selection for the foreign-language Oscar, biopic “Cantinflas,” follows the legendary comedian, whose man-of-the-people sense of humor was fed by poverty and the common desire to mock the rich and powerful. That same comedy of manners fuels at least one of the pics in the new wave of laffers launched last year: “We Are the Nobles” (Nosotros los nobles) — a film that took in $26 million at the Mexico B.O.

The new comedies all share an attribute local auds expect when they go to the movies — higher production values, like in the Hollywood films that are the most popular pics in Mexico.

And thanks to such cross-border distribution channels as the Pantelion-Lionsgate partnership, more U.S. Spanish-speaking auds are also lining up for tickets to lighthearted Mexican fare.

So far in 2014, the top earner is Marco Polo Constandse’s romantic comedy “Marry If You Can” (Casese quien pueda), which sold more than 4 million tickets, good for about $12 million at the domestic B.O. (and another $3 million foreign) in the first quarter of the year, making it the third local laffer to hit $10 million and the seventh to pull in $5 million since 2013. Four weeks into release, “Cantinflas” sold more than 2.5 million tickets for $9.2 million — and that figure reaches $14.7 million if you add in the U.S. box office.

Mexican pictures took an estimated 10.9% of the overall B.O. in 2013, up from 2012’s 4.5%, as well as 12.7% of the overall number of tickets sold — or 28.65 million tickets.

With nearly three months to go, six Mexican films — four of them comedies — have sold more than 1 million tickets in 2014, a remarkable feat after the crisis years of 2009-12, during which an average of only three films per year hit that figure, none grossing more than $10 million.

This month, comedy “La Hija de Moctezuma,” a reboot of a the 1970s Mexican cult classic comedy franchise “La India Maria,” opened Oct. 9 to a so-so $280,000, but distrib Star may be counting on word of mouth to push forward. And Luis Estrada’s satire “The Perfect Dictatorship,” a scalding parody of Mexican politics, and his follow-up to the 2010 narco-themed hit “Hell” (El Infierno — $6 million at the box office), opened Oct. 17 to strong notices, including $630,000 in the U.S.

Comedy is a good idea for young filmmakers, says Monica Lozano, the producer of Mexico’s 2013 hit laffer “Instructions Not Included,” the Eugenio Derbez-starrer that grossed $85.5 million worldwide. But she also notes the need for the government and exhibitors to take more forceful steps in helping to bring a greater variety of Mexican projects — including the festival-circuit arthouse pics — to wider release.

Others in the arthouse community in Mexico are heartened by local success stories, no matter the genre.

Jaime Romandia, founder and director of indie shingle Mantarraya and frequent collaborator with festival darlings Carlos Reygadas and Amat Escalante, sees the growing exhibitor interest in domestic fare as creating a new opportunity for all local filmmakers. “There are many types of films, and all of them help independent film in Mexico,” Romandia says. “(The hit films) are a very good complement” to limited-release fare.

Even this year’s tony Guadalajara Film Festival screened local comedies — “En el ultimo trago,” a comedy-drama that follows three octogenarians on a road trip to honor a dead friend’s last request; and “Familia Gang,” a laffer about a crime family. Both are looking at 2015 release dates.

Romandia notes that films that strike a balance between art and commercial success are appearing in more countries. “That’s going to happen in Mexico,” he says. “(Comedy) has opened the door for Mexicans to watch Mexican cinema.”

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