Annecy: Les Armateurs Sets Paul Leluc For ‘French Riviera’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Prestige French production house closes deals on ‘The Swallows of Kabul,’ preps ‘Cheeky Anna’

French Riviera
Courtesy of Les Armateurs

ANNECY, France –France’s Les Armateurs, one of Europe’s most prestigious of animation production houses, has attached Paul Leluc, director of its TV toon series hit “The Long Long Holiday,” to helm “French Riviera,” the most ambitious of its animated feature productions.

The moves comes as Les Armateurs, which has won five Oscar nominations for its animated films, is studying entering live-action children’s entertainment, and “The Swallows of Kabul,” another flagship animated feature with a stunning teaser-trailer, has tied down both an international sales agent – Hengameh Panahi’s Celluloid Dreams — and domestic distribution in France via Memento Film Distribution.

Studiocanal is handling international sales on “French Riviera,” plus French distribution.

“’The Long Long Holiday’ had very good audiences, both on linear and catch-up TV, and was very well received by critics, and Paul Leluc has a great sense of how to tell a story,” said Ivan Rouveure, Les Armateurs executive managing director.

As on “Long Long Holiday,” “French Riviera” will be made in 3D with 2D rendering.

“3D is for the fluidity of animation, to be able to work in a Western Europe and North America style. But 2D allows for much more freedom and to make a big film on a budget which will be maximum €10 million ($11.1 million),” Rouveure said.

Originated by graphic artist Richard Zielenkiewicz, better known as Monsieur Z, and Bruno Benchetrit, “French Riviera” is written by Coline Abert (“Plus Belle La Vie”) and “Toy Story” co-writers Alec Sokolow and Joel Cohen — whose credits include “Cheaper by the Dozen” and “Garfield.” A screenplay is nearly completed.

Pitched as a vintage thriller with glamour and pace whose early concept art had something of the retro élan of 1950s airline posters, “French Riviere” features animals as characters. The animated feature turns on a literal cat burglar who steals a stash of diamonds.

A bigscreen transfer of Yasmine Khadra’s celebrated novel, “The Swallows of Kabul” is directed by actress-director Zabou Breitman, who won a best first film Cesar for her 2001 directorial debut “Beautiful Memories,” and 29-year-old Elea Gobbe-Mevellec, a rising star of French animation not only for her lyrical 2008 short “Escale,” but also her work on the Oscar-nominated “Ernest and Celestine,” another Les Armateurs production. Like “Ernest and Celestine,” “Swallows” will be made in paperless 2D. Stephane Roelants’ Melusine Production, fast emerging as the partner of choice on upscale European animation, will co-produce out of Luxembourg, handling two-thirds of the animation and the backgrounds, Roveure said.

A bracing condemnation of the treatment of women and misery of life under Taliban rule, “Swallows” turns on two couples, Atiq, a jailer in a women’s prison, and Mussarat, his ailing wife, who have been married for 20 years and hardly talk to each other; and Zunaira, a former lawyer, and her husband, once a university lecturer. Young and in love, both are forbidden from exercising their professions.

Memento Film Distribution will handle theatrical distribution on “The Swallows of Kabul,” said Memento’s Alexandre Mallet-Guy, adding that Memento had worked with Breitman before and he had been highly impressed by both the “Swallows” screenplay and a teaser.

Superbly cut, and evoking a watercolor effect in its graphic work, the teaser-trailer mixes both general shots with detailed background, close-ups with very little background at all, and telling camera movements to establish the movie’s themes and its main narrative driving force: Atiq’s fascination with an imprisoned Zunaira.

Panahi’s Celluloid Dreams handled international sales on “Brendan and the Secret of Kells,” which Les Armateurs co-produced. Les Armateurs aims to go into production by early 2016, said Roveure.

“Cheeky Anna” was announced at Annecy last year, and is a co-production between Les Armateurs and Folimage; its screenplay, by Tony Scott and Pascal Mirleau, will be completed in July. Spanish siblings Elena and Fernando Pomares direct.

With regards to live-action film production, Les Armateurs aims to make family films for large audiences, mainly based on well-known literary works, working with France’s big studios, said Roveure, saying that family audiences were underserved by European production.